Nyepi Day in Bali is a New Year celebration unlike anywhere else on the planet. Unlike other cultures that celebrate New Year with vivacious and loud festivities, the pinnacle of Balinese New Year is a day of complete Silence. Hence the name Nyepi, meaning “to keep silent” in the local language, which falls on the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox.
It’s ultimately the quietest day of the year, when all of the island’s inhabitants abide by a set of local rules. These bring all routine activities to a complete halt. Roads all over Bali are void of any traffic and nobody steps outside of their home premises.
Nyepi is a day fully dedicated to connect oneself more closely with God (Hyang Widi Wasa) through prayers and at the same time as a day of self-introspection to decide on values, such as humanity, love, patience, kindness, and others, that should be kept forever.
The unique day of silence marks the turn of the Saka calendar of western Indian origin. It’s one among the many calendars assimilated by Indonesia’s diverse cultures. The Saka is also among two calendars that are jointly used in Bali. The Saka is 78 years behind the Gregorian calendar, and follows a lunar sequence. Nyepi follows after a new moon, and the dates vary from year to year.
Before the Silence Before ‘the silence’, highlight rituals essentially start three days prior to Nyepi, with colourful processions known as the Melasti pilgrimages. Pilgrims from various village temples all over Bali convey heirlooms on long walks towards the coastlines where elaborate purification ceremonies take place. It is one of the best times to capture on camera the iconic Balinese processions in motion, as parasols, banners and small effigies offer a cultural spectacle.
Village meeting halls known as ‘banjar’ and streets feature papier-mâché effigies called ogoh-ogoh. They are built throughout the weeks leading up to the Saka New Year. Youth groups design and build their mythical figures with intricately shaped and tied bamboo framework before many layers of artwork. These artistic creations are offshoots of the celebration. Much of it has stayed on to become an inseparable element in the island-wide celebration that’s Nyepi Eve.
Then on Saka New Year’s Eve, it is all blaring noise and merriment. Every Balinese household starts the evening with blessings at the family temple and continues with a ritual called the pengrupukan where each member participates in ‘chasing away’ malevolent forces, known as bhuta kala, from their compounds – hitting pots and pans or any other loud instruments along with a fiery bamboo torch. These ‘spirits’ are later manifested as the ogoh-ogoh to be paraded in the streets. As the street parades ensue, bamboo cannons and occasional firecrackers fill the air with flames and smoke. The Nyepi Eve parade usually starts at around 19:00 local time.
However on Nyepi Day, complete calm enshrouds the island. The Balinese Hindus follow a ritual called the Catur Brata Penyepian, roughly the ‘Four Nyepi Prohibitions’. These include:
- amati geni or ‘no fire’
- amati lelungan or ‘no travel’
- amati karya ‘no activity’
- amati lelanguan ‘no entertainment’
Some consider it a time for total relaxation and contemplation, for others, a chance for Mother Nature to ‘reboot’ herself after a year of human pestering. No lights are turned on at night – total darkness and seclusion goes along with this new moon island-wide, from 06:00 to 06:00. No motor vehicles whatsoever are allowed on the streets, except ambulances and police patrols and emergencies. Traditional community watch patrols or pecalang enforce the rules of Nyepi, patrolling the streets by day and night in shifts.
Aphrodisia, festival of Aphrodite, ancient Greece was, according to Wilson’s Almanac celebrated on or around February 6th. If you’d like to invoke the Goddess of love, sex, and beauty, you can prepare for a feast honoring Aphrodite’s loving sensuality and warmth.
- Decorate with pink carnations; they are the flowers of friendship.
- Burn warm yellow sandalwood scented candles – sandalwood loosens inhibitions.
- Put symbols of love including pomegranates, apples, and seashells out in blue ceramic or crystal bowls.
- Invite friends to bring an aphrodisiac food for sharing (cherries, oysters, papaya, chocolate, truffles, red wine, etc).
- Open a window or door slightly.
- Join hands around the dinner table.
Recite this invocation:
Aphrodite, Greek goddess of friendship, love, and life
Come join us, bring peace and eliminate all strife
We welcome you with fruit, flowers, fire, and fresh air
Release us from anxiety, stress, or despair
Come down; be with us
Grace us this special day
We call you with love
We hope you will stay.
Repeat three times with sincerity.
Who is Aphrodite?
Aphrodite is the Olympian goddess of love, beauty, sexual pleasure, and fertility. She is regularly attended by few of her children, the Erotes, who are capable of stirring up passion in both mortals and gods at the goddess’ will.
Portrayed as both insatiable and unattainable, Aphrodite was born near the coast of Cythera out of the foam (aphros) Uranus’ castrated genitals created when they fell into the sea. Even though married to Hephaestus, she had affairs with all Olympians except Zeus and Hades, most famously with Ares, the god of war. She also had famous romances with two mortals, Anchises and Adonis.
A Ritual for The Aphrodesia
- Colors: Sea green and white
- Element: Water
- Offerings: Shells. Fishes. Promises to aid expectant parents.
- Daily Meal: Ocean fish. Shellfish. Sweet things, especially desserts. Whipped cream.
Lay with a cloth of sea green, strings of pearls, white lace, many scallop shells, colored glass sea floats, abalone, small shells with hearts and fishes painted on them, and a large chalice of Greek wine with frothy sugared egg whites floating in it.
Invocation to Aphrodite Genetrix
Lady of Sea-Foam,
Green as the ocean from which
You sprang, with pearls
Of whitest foam,
Love that creates all Life,
We thank you for the Love
That sparked our existence.
We remember that we were all born of love
Whether it was brief and poignant
As a firefly’s courtship
Or solid and lasting
For half a century,
Whether it sprang from the body
Or the heart, or the soul.
You who bind the proton to the electron
And so bind the world together,
May we never forget your gift of attraction
That makes us all human
Even as you are divine.
The ritual for this day is the Great Rite, performed by one man and one woman, as Aphrodite Genetrix is the matron of procreative sexuality. If done symbolically, the man plunges a blade into the chalice held by the woman, and then it is poured as a libation.
Ideally, it should be done literally, either by members of the house or by two who have come in for this purpose. If outsiders, it would be an auspicious time to conceive a child. All sit facing outwards in a circle and chant as the couple are wrapped in a red cloth and lay together in the center, and when it is done all repair to their rooms and either contemplate love or have ritual sex, alone or together.
Reindeer racing championships are held annually around Easter time in small Sami town called Kautokeino, when the snow is still divine. Another famous reindeer race takes place within the Sami Week in Tromsø on the Sunday closest to the Sami National Day that falls on the 6th of February. (In 2019, it will be February 4 thru 10.)
In addition to the championships, an amateur race is also held. Participation in this amusing spectacle is available for all the interested. Volunteers are given a number and a ticket for the race. Whoever has not skied before is advised to race on their butts as it will surely make the race last longer and perhaps some will even manage to pass the finish line.
On Sunday, barriers go down along both sides of the whole of Tromsø’s main street, to create a track for some fast and furious reindeer racing. When the start signal goes, the reindeer burst out of their stalls at the northern end and pound at full speed down the street, pulling their drivers after them on skis. The finishing line is at the southern end.
The event is the Nordic championships, with the 12 fastest reindeer from Norway and Finland on the starting line. There is no distinction between male and female drivers; it’s the fastest reindeer that counts.
According to historical documents, on the day when Shun, who was one of ancient China’s mythological emperors, came to the throne more than 4000 years ago, he led his ministers to worship heaven and earth. From then on, that day was regarded as the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. This is the basic origin of Chinese New Year.
The new year is by far the most important festival of the Chinese lunar calendar. A long time ago, the emperor determined the start of the New Year. Today, celebrations are based on Emperor Han Wu Di’s almanac. It uses the first day of the first month of the Lunar Year as the start of Chinese New Year. The Chinese New Year always occurs in January or February on the second new moon after the winter solstice, though on occasion it has been the third new moon.
In 2019, the Chinese New Year officially begins on February 5th and ends on February 19th. This begins the Year of the Pig.
The holiday is a time of renewal, with debts cleared, new clothes bought, shops and homes decorated, and families gathered for a reunion dinner. Enjoying extravagant foods with family and friends is arguably the cornerstone of the occasion, along with receiving the ubiquitous red envelopes full of cash (called lai see in Cantonese, or hongbao in Mandarin).
Chinese New Year is marked by fireworks, traditional lion dances, gift giving, and special foods. This is one of the most important holidays. It is observed all over the world. Similar celebrations occur in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival. The “Spring Festival” in modern Mainland China, is China’s most important traditional festival, this public holiday starts on the Chinese New Year, and lasts for 7 days.
About The Chinese Calendar
The Chinese Calendar is a based on the cycles of the moon. The start of the New Year begins anywhere from late January to mid-February. A complete lunar cycle takes 60 years. It is composed of five cycles that are 12 years each. Each 12-year segment is named after an animal.
According to legend, Buddha called all the animals to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came and as a reward to them, he named the years after them in the order they arrive (the order is listed below). It is believed the animal ruling of the year you are born effects your personality and “it is the animal that hides in your heart”.
The Chinese calendar uses the stem-branch system. The branches are the 12 years. There are ten stems that are used in the counting system. The stems are metal, water, wood, fire and soil; each having a yin and a yang side. There are a lot more intricacies in the system, but you should also know that the elements correlate to colors. Metal=white or golden, water=black, wood=green, fire=red, and soil=brown.
When you put all of this together you end up with the following:
- 2007 is the Year of the Red Pig
- 2008 is the Year of the Brown Rat
- 2009 is the Year of the Brown Ox
- 2010 is the Year of the White or Golden Tiger
- 2011 is the Year of the White or Golden Rabbit
- 2012 is the Year of the Black Dragon
- 2013 is the Year of the Black Snake
- 2014 is the Year of the Green Horse
- 2015 is the Year of the Green Sheep
- 2016 is the Year of the Red Monkey
- 2017 is the Year of the Red Rooster
- 2018 is the Year of the Brown Dog
- 2019 is the Year of the Brown Pig
- 2020 is the Year of the White Rat
Which Chinese zodiac animal are you?
According to the Asian astrology, your year of birth – and the animal this represents – determines a lot about your personality traits. Find the year you were born, and you can figure out which animal in the Chinese Zodiac is yours. The animal changes at the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and traditionally these animals were used to date the years.
Remember, Chinese New Year is a movable celebration, dictated by the lunar cycle, which can fall anytime between January 21 and February 20. So, if you were born during that time, you may need to do some research to figure out which animal applies to you.
- Rat: 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948
- Ox: 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949
- Tiger: 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950
- Rabbit: 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951
- Dragon: 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952
- Snake: 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953
- Horse: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954
- Goat: 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955
- Monkey: 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956
- Rooster: 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957
- Dog: 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958
- Pig: 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959
Traditions observed during the New Year stem from legends and practices from ancient times. Legend tells of a village, thousands of years ago, that was ravaged by Nian, an evil monster, one winter’s night. The following year the monster returned and again ravaged the village. Before it could happen a third time, the villagers devised a plan to scare the monster away.
The color red protects against evil. Red banners were hung everywhere. Firecrackers were set off, and people banged on drums and gongs creating loud noises to scare the beast away. The plan worked. The celebration lasted several days during which people visited with each other, exchanged gifts, danced, and ate tasty food. Today, celebrations last two weeks.
The red posters with poetic verses on it were initially a type of amulet, but now it simply means good fortune and joy. Various Chinese New Year symbols express different meanings. For example, an image of a fish symbolizes “having more than one needs every year”. A firecracker symbolizes “good luck in the coming year”. The festival lanterns symbolize “pursuing the bright and the beautiful.”
Preparing for the New Year
Spring cleaning is started about a month prior to the new year and must be completed before the celebrations begin. All the negativity and bad luck from the previous year must be swept out of the house.
Many people clean their homes to welcome the Spring Festival. They put up the red posters with poetic verses on it to their doors, Chinese New Year pictures on their walls, and decorate their homes with red lanterns. It is also a time to reunite with relatives so many people visit their families at this time of the year.
People also get haircuts and purchase new clothing. It symbolizes a fresh start. Flowers and decorations are purchased. Decorations include a New year picture (Chinese colored woodblock print), Chinese knots, and paper-cuttings, and couplets.
Flowers have special meanings and the flower market stocks up on:
- Plum blossom for luck
- Kumquats for prosperity
- Narcissus for prosperity
- Sunflowers to have a good year
- Eggplant to heal sickness
- Chom mon planta for tranquility
Offerings are made to the Kitchen God about a week before the New Year.
On The Eve of The Spring Festival
The Annual Reunion Dinner, Nian Ye Fan, is held on the eve of the festival. This is an important part of the celebration. Families come together and eat together. The food is symbolic. Many dishes have ingredients that sound the same as good tidings. In northern China, dumplings are served at midnight, they symbolize wealth.
In the evening of the Spring Festival Eve, many people set off fireworks and firecrackers, hoping to cast away any bad luck and bring forth good luck. Children often receive “luck” money. Many people wear new clothes and send Chinese New Year greetings to each other. Various activities such as beating drums and striking gongs, as well as dragon and lion dances, are all part of the Spring Festival festivities.
The dragon dance is a highlight in the celebrations. A team of dances mimic the movements of the dragon river spirit. Dragons bring good luck.
Lions are considered good omens. The lion dance repels demons. Each lion has two dancers, one to maneuver the head, the other to guide the back. Business owners offer the lions a head of lettuce and oranges or tangerines. The offerings hope to insure a successful year in business. Lettuce translates into “growing wealth” and tangerines and oranges sound like “gold” and “wealth” in Chinese. The lions eat the oranges, then spew them up and out into the hordes of people who eagerly tried to catch the them. After eating the lettuce, they spit out it out in a thousand pieces.
During the New Year
Red packets called Lai See Hong Bao (or Hongbao) with money tucked inside are given out as a symbol of good luck. The amount is an even number as odd numbers are regarded as unlucky.
- Bright red lanterns are hung.
- Brooms and cleaning material are put away. No cleaning takes place during the holiday so no good luck is swept out of the home.
- During the New Year celebrations people do not fight and avoid being mean to each other, as this would bring a bad, unlucky year.
- Bright colors and red are worn.
- Everyone celebrates their birthday this day and they turn one year older.
- Traditional red oval shaped lanterns are hung.
The end of the New Year is celebrated with the Lantern Festival.
Top Ten Taboos for The Chinese New Year
The Spring Festival is a time of celebration. It’s to welcome the new year with a smile and let the fortune and happiness continue on. At the same time, the Spring Festival involves somber ceremonies to wish for a good harvest. Strict rules and restrictions go without saying.
To help you with that, here are the top 10 taboos during the Chinese New Year. Follow these and fortune will smile on you.
- 1. Do not say negative words
All words with negative connotations are forbidden! These include: death, sick, empty, pain, ghost, poor, break, kill and more. The reason behind this should be obvious. You wouldn’t want to jinx yourself or bring those misfortunes onto you and your loved ones.
- 2. Do not break ceramics or glass
Breaking things will break your connection to prosperity and fortune. If a plate or bowl is dropped, immediately wrap it with red paper while murmuring auspicious phrases. Some would say 岁岁平安 (suì suì píng ān). This asks for peace and security every year. 岁 (suì) is also a homophone of 碎, which means “broken” or “shattered.” After the New Year, throw the wrapped up shards into a lake or river.
- 3. Do not clean or sweep
Before the Spring Festival, there is a day of cleaning. That is to sweep away the bad luck. But during the actual celebration, it becomes a taboo. Cleaning or throwing out garbage may sweep away good luck instead.
If you must, make sure to start at the outer edge of a room and sweep inwards. Bag up any garbage and throw it away after the 5th day. Similarly, you shouldn’t take a shower on Chinese New Year’s Day.
- 4. Do not use scissors, knives or other sharp objects
There are 2 reasons behind this rule. Scissors and needles shouldn’t be used. In olden times, this was to give women a well-deserved break.
Sharp objects in general will cut your stream of wealth and success. This is why 99% of hair salons are closed during the holidays. Hair cutting is taboo and forbidden until Lunar February 2, when all festivities are over.
- 5. Do not visit the wife’s family
Traditionally, multiple generations live together. The bride moves into the groom’s home after marriage. And, of course, she will celebrate Chinese New Year with her in-laws.
Returning to her parents on New Year’s Day means that there are marriage problems and may also bring bad luck to the entire family. The couple should visit the wife’s family on the 2nd day. They’d bring their children, as well as a modest gift (because it’s the thought that counts).
- 6. Do not demand debt repayment
This custom is a show of understanding. It allows everyone a chance to celebrate without worry. If you knock on someone’s door, demanding repayment, you’ll bring bad luck to both parties. However, it’s fair game after the 5th day. Borrowing money is also taboo. You could end up having to borrow the entire year.
- 7. Avoid fighting and crying
Unless there is a special circumstance, try not to cry. But if a child cries, do not reprimand them. All issues should be solved peacefully. In the past, neighbors would come over to play peacemaker for any arguments that occurred. This is all to ensure a smooth path in the new year.
- 8. Avoid taking medicine
Try not to take medicine during the Spring Festival to avoid being sick the entire year. Of course, if you are chronically ill or contract a sudden serious disease, immediate health should still come first. Related taboos include the following ~ Don’t visit the doctor, Don’t perform/undergo surgery, Don’t get shots
- 9. Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed
You are supposed to give New Year blessings (拜年—bài nián). But let the recipient get up from bed first. Otherwise, they’ll be bed-ridden for the entire year. You also shouldn’t tell someone to wake up. You don’t want them to be rushed around and bossed around for the year. Take advantage of this and sleep in!
- 10. Chinese gift-giving taboos
It was mentioned above that you should bring gifts when paying visits. It’s the thought that counts, but some gifts are forbidden.
- Clocks are the worst gifts. The word for clock is a homophone (sounds like) “the funeral ritual”. Also, clocks and watches are items that show that time is running out.
- Items associated with funerals – handkerchiefs, towels, chrysanthemums, items colored white and black.
- Sharp objects that symbolize cutting a tie (i.e. scissors and knives).
- Items that symbolize that you want to walk away from a relationship (examples: shoes and sandals)
- Homonyms for unpleasant topics (examples:green hats because “wear a green hat” sounds like “cuckold”, “handkerchief” sounds like “goodbye”, “pear” sounds like “separate”, and “umbrella” sounds like “disperse”).
Some regions have their own local taboos too. For example, in Mandarin, “apple” (苹果) is pronounced píng guǒ. But in Shanghainese, it is bing1 gu, which sounds like “passed away from sickness.”
These don’t just apply to the Spring Festival, so keep it in the back of your mind!
For the Spring Festival, these rules may seem excessive. Especially when you add in the cultural norms, customs and manners. But like a parent would say, they are all for your own good. Formed over thousands of years, these taboos embody the beliefs, wishes and worries of the Chinese people.
Foods For The New Year
Dishes may vary slightly according to regional and family customs. Dumplings (gau ji) are more commonly served in the north of China, while Hong Kong families often go for a dim sum meal.
Food symbolism goes back centuries in China, and is taken very seriously on special occasions such as Lunar New Year. All food items have their symbolic meanings which, for Hongkongers, are often derived from their Cantonese homonyms. For instance, the Cantonese word for lettuce – sang choi – sounds very similar to the phrase which means “growing wealth”. Of course, nothing considered “unlucky” is allowed near the dining table.
By carefully choosing the menu in this way, families will supposedly be able to increase their luck and manifest their wishes for the coming year, whether those be earning more money or having more children.
Red meat is not served and one is careful not to serve or eat from a chipped or cracked plate. Fish is eaten to ensure long life and good fortune. Red dates bring the hope for prosperity, melon seeds for proliferation, and lotus seeds means the family will prosper through time. Oranges and tangerines symbolize wealth and good fortune. Nian gao, the New Year’s Cake is always served. It is believed that the higher the cake rises the better the year will be. When company stops by a “prosperity tray” is served. The tray has eight sides (another symbol of prosperity) and is filled with goodies like red dates, melon seeds, cookies, and New Year Cakes.
Here the origins of some traditional Chinese festival foods and their often quirky symbolic meanings.
- Lettuce for the lion dance
No traditional Lunar New Year celebration is complete without the famous lion dance, which is thought to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Performers wearing the traditional lion costume normally dance through the streets to the sound of gongs and drums. When the lion briefly stops at houses and businesses along the way, it will “eat” lettuce that is hung up outside the doors, since the humble vegetable symbolizes “growing fortune”. Inside the head of the lettuce will often be a red envelope, further emphasizing its significance.
- Dried oysters and ‘hair vegetable’ stir-fry
This unusual but lucky dish is named ho see fat choy in Cantonese, which sounds a lot like the words meaning “flourishing business”. For an extra dose of luck, ho see (oyster) on its own sounds similar to the Cantonese for “good things” or “good business”, while fat choy (hair vegetable) sounds similar to “prosperity”, as in the traditional Lunar New Year greeting kung hei fat choi. What’s more, the expensive “hair vegetable”, which looks like strands of black hair, is actually a type of fungus. But that doesn’t put off Cantonese restaurants from serving the auspicious dish at Lunar New Year.
- Egg noodles, or yi mein
This classic dish of stir-fried egg noodles is often served at formal dinners during Lunar New Year and other festivals, as it symbolises longevity. The chef must not cut the noodle strands to preserve their length. For this reason, yi mein is often eaten at birthday celebrations too – kind of like the Chinese equivalent of a candle-lit birthday cake.
- Glutinous rice cake, or neen go
The Cantonese term for this traditional sticky treat sounds the same as the literal words “year high”, which symbolize the promise of a better year to come. Families may eat this for several reasons: wanting to have a higher income, higher social status or even more children. Rice cake can be cooked in a variety of ways, and can be sweet or savory. Historical records date the yearly custom to at least 1,000 years ago, in the days of the Liao dynasty (AD907-1125). If there’s one thing that is unmissable from every family’s Lunar New Year feast in all parts of China and Hong Kong, it must be this dish.
- ‘Basin food’, or poon choi
Originating from the walled villages of the New Territories, this traditional celebratory dish soon spread throughout Hong Kong and later China. Legend has it that the early settlers in the New Territories would pool together their most prized ingredients – meat and seafood – in a big wooden washbasin and cook them to be served to the whole village. The communal dish required huge efforts of co-ordination and manpower to cook, so it quickly became associated with celebrations and religious rituals. Each village had its own secret poon choi recipe consisting of various ingredients layered in a particular order in the pot, but the dish is now found in most Cantonese restaurants on special occasions.
- Lotus root soup, or leen gnau tong
The fleshy, tuber-like roots of the lotus flower have been a staple of Chinese cooking for millennia, and traditionally symbolise “abundance”, since the Cantonese term sounds like “having [money] year after year”. The ingredient is also prized for its supposed “cooling” effect on the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine. Lotus root soup, or alternatively stir-fried lotus root, is commonly eaten at Lunar New Year for these reasons.
- Dim sum
Another Cantonese food tradition that is now common in the West is dim sum. The phrase literally means “a light touch of the heart” or “a little bit of heart”. This reflects the care and attention put into each bite-sized dish that is shared between the table, such as har gau (shrimp dumplings), various types of filled buns, and cheung fun (rice noodle rolls). Like a Chinese take on brunch, dim sum is often served at lengthy afternoon yum cha sessions in tea houses. But Hongkongers often go for an even more lavish version of this meal around Lunar New Year.
The Chinese New Year is often accompanied by loud, enthusiastic greetings, often referred to as auspicious words or phrases. New Year couplets printed in gold letters on bright red paper is another way of expressing auspicious new year wishes. The most common auspicious greetings and sayings consist of four characters, such as the following:
- 金玉滿堂 Jīnyùmǎntáng –
“May your wealth [gold and jade] come to fill a hall”
- 大展鴻圖 Dàzhǎnhóngtú –
“May you realize your ambitions”
- 迎春接福 Yíngchúnjiēfú –
“Greet the New Year and encounter happiness”
- 萬事如意 Wànshìrúyì –
“May all your wishes be fulfilled”
- 吉慶有餘 Jíqìngyǒuyú –
“May your happiness be without limit”
- 竹報平安 Zhúbàopíng’ān –
“May you hear [in a letter] that all is well”
- 一本萬利 Yīběnwànlì –
“May a small investment bring ten-thousandfold profits”
- 福壽雙全 Fúshòushuāngquán –
“May your happiness and longevity be complete”
- 招財進寶 Zhāocáijìnbǎo –
“When wealth is acquired, precious objects follow”
These greetings or phrases may also be used just before children receive their red packets, when gifts are exchanged, when visiting temples, or even when tossing the shredded ingredients of yusheng particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore. Children and their parents can also pray in the temple, in hopes of getting good blessings for the new year to come.
Every year, Lam Tsuen holds the Hong Kong Well-Wishing Festival. It part of the Chinese New Year celebration which attracts hundreds of thousands local citizens and tourists from all over the world. (In 2019, the festival runs from February 5 through March 3rd). Various activities at the festival include throwing wishing placard, setting wishing lanterns to make wish, joining international float exhibition, shopping in food carnival and setting lantern light to celebrate new born babies.
The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are a popular shrine in Hong Kong located near the Tin Hau Temple in Fong Ma Po Village, Lam Tsuen. The two banyan trees are frequented by tourists and locals during the Lunar New Year. Every year, wish-makers flood to Lam Tsuen for good fortune. The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are said to have the magic power to make a wish real.
The Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree was originally a camphor tree and later a redbud tree. The present Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree refers to an at least 200 year old banyan tree at the entrance of Lam Tsuen. There is also a newly planted banyan tree inside the village and a plastic Wishing Tree.
Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree has long been regarded as a deity by locals, who light candles and burn joss sticks at the root to worship the god. It is a tradition to make red or yellow papers on which people would write down their names, dates of birth and wishes, and roll the papers and tie them with weights (usually an orange) and finally toss them up onto the Wishing Tree. The paper scrolls are called “Bao Die.” Legend has it that if the “Bao Die” does not fall down, a wish would come true. Otherwise, the wish is said to be too greedy.
The Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree at the entrance was covered with “Bao Die” all the year around. As a result, it became extremely fragile. This practice was discouraged by the authorities after 12 February 2005, when one of the branches gave way and injured two people. Instead, wooden racks are set up in place for joss papers to be hung while a period of conservation is imposed to help these trees recover and flourish. Due to the lack of attractiveness of the attraction, A new plastic tree from Guangzhou was purchased in late 2009, plastic mandarin oranges are now only allowed to be tied to the branches. The tradition was able to continue since then.
There are four wishing trees in Lam Tsuen. Different trees symbolize various wishes. The first tree prays for career, academic and wealth. The second tree is for marriage and pregnancy. For the third tree, it states anything can be prayed. Yet, the fourth tree is believed to be most special. It is a fake 25-foot wishing tree made of plastic. Most people make wishes on the plastic Wishing Tree. This plastic fake wishing tree allows worshipers to throw their wishes to the tree.
A traditional “ Bao Die “ includes an orange and it ties with a yellow paper. Worshipers can write their name, date of birth and wishes on the yellow paper and throw it to the wishing tree. If you can successfully throw the “Bao die” and it hangs up on the tree or its branches, the myth said your wishes can come true. However, if it drops, the legend reckoned that your wishes are too greedy. But still, if the “wishes” drop, do not give up, try more and keep throwing until you make your wishes success.
There are lots of interesting stories about Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree. Lam Tsuen wishing tree was an ordinary camphor tree where a tablet for enshrining and worshipping Pak Kung was placed. As years passed, the branches and leaves gradually withered and eventually it became a hollow tree. People started to believe that Lam Tsuen wishing tree was magical after a legend: a man whose son had had a slow learning progress made a wish to a hollow tree. After that, his son’s academic performance has shown drastic improvement.
Another popular legend goes that the original wishing tree was huge with holes in the trunk. When people came to worship it and burn joss sticks, there would be oils flowing down form the holes. Unfortunately, the tree broke down after a fire accident. Surprisingly, before its death, two redbud blossoms appeared on the tree and grew rapidly. Soon the two blossoms were even bigger than the whole wishing tree.
In 2011, a Wishing Well was founded beside the wishing trees. The Wishing Well is a rectangle water channel flanked by glass with a length of 4 meters. The public can write down their wishes on paper, put it into a lotus-like lamp and drift the lamp on water to make a wish.
St. Agatha was tortured and martyred in 251 A.D. In addition to many other tortures, her were breasts cut off. In Catania, Sicily, and other places around the world, her feast day is celebrated with masses in her honor, large processions and symbolic foods, such as le minni di Sant’Agata (breasts of St. Agatha) or le minni di virgini (breasts of the virgin).
According to the story, not only did 15-year-old Saint Agatha of Sicily refuse to abandon her faith, she also rejected a Roman governor’s advances. As such, she was punished with torture and by having her breasts amputated, then died of her wounds in prison on February 5, 251 A.D. Frescoes of the mutilated martyr are easily recognizable. She’s often depicted holding her breasts on a platter.
Each February, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Catania to honor Saint Agatha in a three-day celebration. The centuries-old festival features an all-night procession and delicious replicas of saintly, amputated breasts at every pastry shop.
Known as minne di Sant’ Agata in Italian, these sweet cheese and marzipan desserts are an edible reminder of Saint Agatha’s suffering. Bakers craft the perfectly round confections using a base of shortcrust pastry topped with ricotta. After adding in chocolate or a piece of boozy spongecake to accompany the filling, they blanket everything in pistachio marzipan and a thick, creamy glaze. A candied cherry on top completes the anatomically-correct aesthetic.
Traditionally, the breasts of Saint Agatha pastries consist of a delicate outer layer of pasta frolla (shortbread dough) in the shape of a breast, stuffed with custard, zuccata, chopped almond or pistachio, covered with pink icing and topped with a half candied cherry; another version is filled with ricotta and covered with white icing and topped with a chocolate chip. For a great recipe visit this post, The Breasts Of Saint Agatha
St Agatha’s Party
Every year Catania, on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of February, offers to the Patron Saint such an extraordinary festival that can be compared only the holy week of or Seville or the Corpus Domini of Cuzco, in Perù. In those three days everybody and everything is concentrated on this fest, a mixture of devotion and folklore that attracts millions of people, either devoted or tourist.
The first day is dedicated to the candles offer. The traditions suggests that candle has to be as tall or heavy as the person that is demanding protection. Two carriages of eighteenth century, property once of the old city government, and eleven “candelore“, big candles, in representation of each corporation, are walked in procession.
February 4th it is the most exciting day, in fact it is the first day when the town “meets” the Patron Saint. Already at dawn time, the town is full of people. The devotees are wearing the traditional “sacco”, a votive dress of white cloth, very long and tight up with a string.
The “giro“, the procession on this day lasts all day long. The statue is walked in procession through the places of the martyrdom and in this way the story of the “Santuzza” is interlaced with the town story. On the statue, red gillyflowers (martyrdom symbol) are replaced with white gillyflowers (purity symbol).
On February 5th, during the day in the cathedral the pontifical mass is celebrated. At sun set time, the statue is walked in procession again, going through the centre of Catania. The most beautiful moment is when the statues goes to through “via San Giuliano” that because of its slope is very dangerous.
A Prayer To Saint Agatha
St. Agatha is the patron saint of Sicily, bellfounders, breast cancer patients, Palermo, rape victims, and wet nurses. She is also considered to be a powerful intercessor when people suffer from fires. Her feast day is celebrated on February 5.
- Prayer for healing:
Saint Agatha, you suffered sexual assault and indignity because of your faith and purity. Help heal all those who are survivors of sexual assault and protect those women who are in danger. Amen
- Prayers for persons suffering from breast cancer.
Pause for a moment to pray for all those suffering from breast cancer. Below is a traditional prayer to St. Agatha that may be used for this intention.
St. Agatha, woman of valor, from your own suffering we have been moved to ask your prayers for those of us who suffer from breast cancer. We place the NAME(S) before you, and ask you to intercede on their behalf. From where you stand in the health of life eternal — all wounds healed, and all tears wiped away — pray for [MENTION YOUR REQUEST], and all of us. Pray God will give us His holy benediction of health and healing. And, we remember you were a victim of torture and that you learned, first hand, of human cruelty and inhumanity.
We ask you to pray for our entire world. Ask God to enlighten us with a “genius for peace and understanding.” Ask Him to send us His Spirit of Serenity, and ask Him to help us share that peace with all we meet. From what you learned from your own path of pain, ask God to give us the Grace we need to remain holy in difficulties, not allowing our anger or our bitterness to overtake us.
Pray that we will be more peaceful and more charitable. And from your holy pace in our mystical body, the Church, pray that we, in our place and time will, together, create a world of justice and peace.
From 365 Goddess:
- Themes: Health; Well-Being; Protection
- Symbols: Any Health-related Items
- Presiding Goddess: Saint Agatha
Saint Agatha was a third century Italian martyr who now presides over matters of health and protects homes from fire damage. Many nurses and healers turn to her for assistance in their work. While this saint was a historical persona (not simply a rewritten goddess figure), she certainly embodies the healthy guardian energies of the goddess.
To Do Today:
Traditionally, candles are taken from a central location to people’s homes to bring Agatha’s blessings. So, get yourself a special Agatha candle, of any color, and light it in a safe place whenever you feel under the weather.
Take out your first aid kit, over the counter medications, prescription medications, band aids and bandages and bless them today, saying:
Restore vitality, well-being impart,
Saint Agatha, hear the cry of my heart.
On these tools of healing your blessing give,
That I may stay healthy as long as I live.
When you use any item in the first-aid kit, you can activate the restorative magic by repeating the incantation.
To protect your home from fire, take a sprig of mistletoe left over from the holiday season and put it near your hearth. Invoke Saint Agatha’s protection by saying:
Saint Agatha, let my home be protected,
Let these fires ne’er be neglected.
If you don’t have mistletoe, substitute any red colored stone.
Mauni Amavasya, also known as ‘Mauna Amavasya’ is a unique Hindu tradition observed on the ‘amavasya’ (no moon day) during the Hindu month of ‘Magha’. It falls during the month of January-February as per the Gregorian calendar.
As name suggests it is the day of silence in Hinduism when people take pledge to observe one day fasting by not uttering a word throughout the day. It is believed that the water of the most sacred and holy river in Hinduism, the Ganga, turns into the nectar on Mauni Amavasya day. Due to this belief Mauni Amavasya day is the most important day in Hindu calendar to take holy dip in the Ganges.
If this date falls on Monday, (which it does in 2019), then its auspiciousness increases all the more.
The day is also celebrated as the birthday of Manu rishi. It is believed, Lord Brahma gave origination to Maharaja Manu and queen Shatrupa. Hence, this day is considered as the beginning of the creation of the universe.
Do’s and Don’ts For Today
- Silence is considered auspicious on this day.
- Wake up early in the morning and take a bath while keeping silence.
- Better yet, bathe in a river, lake or sacred pool.
- After bathing, offer Sun (fire) to the God.
- Silence on Mauni Amavas is of particular importance. If it is not possible to remain silent then do not speak bitter words from your mouth.
- In Vedic astrology the moon is said to be the factor of the mind. Restraining the mind by keeping a silence fast strengthens the mind.
- On this day there is also the law of worship of both Lord Vishnu and Shiva.
- The poor and the hungry should definitely have food. Offer food in grains, textiles, sesame, amla, blankets, beds, ghee and cows.
- Donations of gold or land can also be done.
- Remember the ancestors also on Mauni Amavas, this leads them to salvation.
- Both men and women should avoid having physical relations on this day. According to Garuda Purana, children born with sexual relation on the Mauni Amavas may have to face many kinds of problems in life.
- Men and women should avoid arguments. This brings an atmosphere of unrest to the house. It always gives birth to negative power.
- At the same time, one should remain silent on this day and worship God.
- Do not insult the poor and helpless. According to beliefs, Shani Dev represents the poor. In such a situation, Shani Dev does not bless the person who insults the poor.
- The worship of the Banyan Tree (Peepal) on the new moon day is considered to be auspicious and fruitful.
- It is considered inauspicious to touch a Banyan Tree on a day other than Saturday. So worship on Mauni Amavasya, but do not touch it.
- Do not go to the graveyard, negative powers are active on the night of the new moon.
Collected from various sources
Japan has four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The term setsubun originally referred to the days marking the change from one season to the next, so that there were four of them, but today only the day before risshun (the beginning of spring in the traditional Japanese calendar) is called by that name. Setsubun comes on either February 3 or 4, depending on the year.
On the night of Setsubun, many households do mame-maki – a bean-throwing ceremony. The toshiotoko of the household (a male born on the corresponding Chinese zodiac animal of the year), or the male head of the household, throws pan-heated soybeans out the door, while chanting:
“Oni wa soto!
Fuku wa uchi!”
After the mame-maki is over, everyone eats the same number of beans as their own age. It is believed that by doing so, people will be free of sickness during that year.
Mame-maki began as a New Year ceremony (in the traditional Japanese calendar) to drive out evil spirits and the seeds of misfortune, as well as to pray for the family’s well-being and good business. In the Heian era, a famous Buddhist monk was said to have driven away Oni (demons or evil spirits) by throwing beans.
Oni masks are popular. Oni are mountain ogres with horns; fangs; red, blue, brown or black skin; and carry weapons.
Families with little children especially look forward to this day because mame-maki can be a lot of fun. One person acts as the goblin and runs around, while the others throw beans at the person. At some schools, the students make goblin masks and enjoy mame-maki.
At Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over the country, there are celebrations. Priests and invited guests will throw roasted soy beans (some wrapped in gold or silver foil), small envelopes with money, sweets, candies, and other prizes for people to catch.
Some families put up hiiragi iwashi (holly sardine), small decorations made from cooked sardine heads (sometimes the whole fish) stuck onto holly branches. They are placed on the entrance to the home so that bad spirits may not enter.
A traditional food is Eho Maki, a sushi roll made with seven “lucky” ingredients. Though sushi rolls are usually sliced into bite-sized pieces, Eho Maki is not, as slicing it would cut off good fortune. A wish is made, then the roll is eaten in silence while facing the year’s lucky compass direction. The direction changes each year. Ginger sake is a customary drink.
From 365 Goddess:
- Themes: Luck; Protection; Cycles; Happiness
- Symbols: A Snowflake; Beans
- Color: White
- Presiding Goddess: Shirata
This Japanese goddess embodies the first snow, where she glistens and shines with incomparable beauty until she freely and joyfully gives herself to spring’s warmth and melts away. By so doing, Shirata reminds us that while the year has only just begun, the wheel of time is ever moving, and that we should make the most of every moment.
To Do Today:
For happiness, cut a snowflake pattern out of a quartered piece of white paper and carry it with you in your wallet as a charm. Make sure to visualize the snowflake being filled with brilliant white light, like that which is seen when the sun shines off new-fallen snow.
In Japan, this day (Setsubun) is a time to chase away any malevolent influences that might hinder Shirata’s joyful nature within us. People scatter beans and make loud noises to banish evil and carve lanterns with wishes to light the way for a better tomorrow. For our purposes, scatter seeds on the ground or plant beans instead so something as beautiful as Shirata can replace any negativity in your life with abundant growth.
To internalize Shirata’s happiness, prepare any white beans and eat them as part of a meal today. If you hold any rituals, use beans to mark the magic circle, scattering them counterclockwise to banish any unwanted influences.
There is one twist on that old groundhog day legend that goes like this: “When the bear sees his shadow at Candlemas; he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.”
In Croatia and Serbia, Orthodox Christians have a tradition that on February 2 (Candlemas) or February 15 (Sretenje, The Meeting of the Lord), the bear will awaken from hibernation, and if it sees (meets) its own shadow in this sleepy and confused state, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. But, if a bear does not see his shadow, he will remain outside, which means that hibernation period is over and that spring will soon start.
Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is a sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end. Romania and Hungary also watch for bear shadows on February 2.
The Powamu Festival is the mid-winter ceremony and also called the Bean Planting Festival. It is observed in late January or early February. The celebration lasts 8 days and is mainly celebrated by the Hopi Indians in Arizona.
The Hopis call their ancestral spirits, Katchinas. They believe that for 6 months of the year, these spirits leave their mountain homes and visit the tribe. When they do this, they bring along with them good health to the Hopi and rain for their crops. The Powamu Festival celebrates the spirits return, just like the Niman Katchina ceremony in July celebrates their departure.
The preparations for the ceremony include repainting of the masks that will be worn by those Hopi who impersonate the Katchinas. On the third day, young men bring baskets of wet sand that they leave near the entrance to the kiva, the ceremonial meeting room (see more about this on Wuwuchim page). A hot fire also burns in every kiva of very Hopi village the entire 8 days of the Powamu Festival. Blankets are also stretched across the opening so that the atmosphere inside is similar to a hothouse.
Each man who enters the kiva during this period carries a basket (or bowl) of sand into it. He also plants a handful of beans, which sprout really fast due to all the heat and humidity inside the kiva.
Why bean sprouts? The Hopi believe that bean sprouts represent fertility. Because the Hopi rely strongly on the Katchinas to bring rain (and other good weather conditions) essential to the growth of their crops, bean sprouts also symbolize the approaching spring too.
The Powamu comes to it’s conclusion with a dance that takes place in the nine kivas that dot the northeastern Arizona mesa. The bodies of the dancers are painted red and white and they wear squash blossoms in their hair. These are really yucca fibers twisted into the shape of a squash blossom. They also wear white kilts and sashes, plus leggings with a fringe of shells tied down the side.
The dance takes place inside the hot kiva and is done in two lines. When the dance is over, the dancers then leave for the next village’s kiva, and another group arrives. So, by the time the night is over, each group will have danced at all of the nine kivas.
Then, the Katchinas arrive the next morning wear masks and painted bodies. They bring dolls and rattles for the girls; and, bow and arrows for the boys. Both of the boys and girls get the green bean sprouts that have been growing in the hot kivas.
Clowns run around making jokes, tripping each other and performing pantomines for everyone’s pleasure and fun. The conclusion of the Powamu ends with a feast in which bean sprouts are the main ingredient.
From this time until their departure in July, the Katchinas appear regularly in masked ceremonies performed in the Hopi villages.
The men who impersonate the Katchinas wear masks which vary from year to year. A few of the masks will, however, remain the same. Before the dance, the masks are repainted and refurbished. They are made to fit closely over the head, hiding it totally. There is also a ruff of feathers, fur or spruce at the neck. The face on the mask usually resembles a bird, a beast, a monster or a man or a combination of all of these.
Those who wear the Katchina masks usually also carry an object associated with the being they are suppose to represent (i.e. bow and arrow, a yucca whip or feathers.)
The female Katchinas (who are not really women but are impersonated by the men) wear wigs or long hair styled in flat swirls over the ears known as squash blossoms. This hair style represents virginity.
The Soyokmana is a witch-like creature that carries a crook and a bloody knife. She goes along with the Katchinas as they go from Hopi village to another visiting their kivas. This group also goes from house to house demanding food, receiving gifts and presenting bean sprouts.
When the food they are offered does not meet their requirements, the Katchinas get upset and make hooting and whistling noises and refuse to leave until they have been properly fed! (This sort of reminds me of trick or treating on Halloween.) Sometimes that mean ol’ Soyokamana will use her crook to hook a child around the neck and hold him or her there, screaming in terror. Parents tell their children that this is a punishment for being naughty.
The Flogging Ceremony
Up until a Hopi child is 9 or 10, they believe that the Katchinas are superhuman. So when Hopi children, who have been seeing the Katchinas at many ceremonial dances grow up, they are told that the real Katchinas no longer visit the earth, but are merely impersonated by men wearing masks.
The price for this sudden wisdom is to participate in a ritual flogging or whipping ceremony. Now, the children are NEVER struck hard enough to cause serious injury or pain! This ritual is not intended to be cruel. In fact, sometimes a child who is really frightened, isn’t flogged at all but has a yucca whip whirled over his or her head. Occasionally, an adult will be flogged too, which is believed to promote healing.
For four successive mornings, the child who has been flogged is taken to a special place on the mesa where he or she can make an offering at a shrine and casts meal towards the sun. During the first 3 days of this 4 day period, the child is not allowed to eat salt or meat. But, on the fourth day, these rules are lifted. And, from this time on, the child is now allowed to look at the Katchinas without their masks and at other sacred objects in the kiva without incurring any punishment.