This greeting is in Cantonese, not Mandarin, because that’s what you’re most likely to hear in the US.
Can you believe we are already one week into the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year? Traditionally, New Year celebrations went on for a couple of weeks, although today that time has often been limited to as little as one week.
While the Chinese and Vietnamese have many differences in their cultures, they both share a lot of similarities for this major holiday, which the Vietnamese call Tet.
Joss sticks are long, narrow sticks of incense, which are either held in two hands while praying or placed in a sand filled container and burned in various personal, family, and public religious rituals.
First, just to clarify, the word joss isn’t Chinese. It comes from the Portuguese word for god, deus. Nevertheless, joss is now the standard term used and if you wanted to buy some in a local Chinese grocery, for example, it’s what you’d look for.
The Chinese have been using incense to assist in communicating with the supernatural as far back as 2,000 BC! Apparently, early Chinese used aromatic herbs and other plants, such as sandalwood, to burn. However, although these are called incense, today it is common today to use a non-fragrant material in the joss sticks which are used for prayer purposes. It’s not the fragrance that’s important in the ritual so much as the smoke given off by the joss sticks as they burn. The smoke rises upwards, carrying the prayers to the gods or ancestors. There are fragrant incense sticks and these can also be used for praying.
As we said in the last post (January 3, 2014) the radical makes up an essential part of a character but there often is a second part, which usually gives further information. The word butterfly, hú dié, hur dier(蝴蝶) is a great example. The first word in this combination is hú, hur (蝴).
I think Chinese characters are beautiful and elegant. In fact, historically, the script itself has often been used as art. You’ve probably seen some of these displayed in museums and on walls of businesses and homes. They are often boldly written on long, vertical scrolls.
The scorpion (xiēzi, xie zi 蠍 子) is much like the spider (zhī zhū, zhi zhu 蜘 蛛) we mentioned in last week’s blog and is usually depicted as one of the 5 noxious animals. What actually composes the 5 noxious animals varies – it often includes the spider, scorpion, viper, centipede, and toad. Amulets depicting these animals were worn or hung on the walls, doors or gates as a way of protecting the family from disease and evil spirits.
Sometimes the actual animals portrayed differed—the toad may be a normal toad, but may be a three-legged toad; a worm, lizard, or tiger may replace one of the five
Although we are in the depths of December and cold, cold, cold, I am thinking of my wildflower garden and Spring. Naturally, butterflies come to mind and butterflies [hú dié, hur dier (蝴 蝶)]are another auspicious symbol in traditional China.
Butterflies are beautiful and because they simply flit around from place to place, flower to flower, they appear to be carefree. Perhaps as a result, they are considered a sign of joy, happiness, and blessings. The longstanding place the butterfly has had in Chinese tradition is highlighted by the story about Zhuāngzǐ (莊子), a 4th Century philosopher, having a dream where he was the butterfly and the joy it gave him.