Thursday, 22 February 2018

Happy Birthday, One and All!

You might be wondering whether I'm wishing you a Happy Birthday, and whether it's my birthday, and in a sense, the answer to both questions is 'Yes'.

It's the seventh day of the Chinese New Year today, and I came across this article in the Guardian about Chinese New Year customs. It has provoked some backlash amongst some, in that their customs were described in the article as being 'antiquated', but as I am not Cantonese myself, I can see what the writer was trying (and failing) to get across: that the 'Chinese New Year customs' most Brits are familiar with, down to the use of 'kung hei fatt choi' to wish someone a Happy New Year, are actually Cantonese customs, and that the customs of the Chinese vary from place to place.

One of the peculiarities of the place where my ancestors came from is their celebration of the seventh day of the Chinese New Year as 'Renri' -  人日 - 'Creation of Humanity Day'. The story goes that the Goddess Nuwa 女娲 came across the Earth, which was uninhabited, and decided to make figurines to amuse herself. On the first day she made chickens, the second dogs, the third pigs, sheep and goats on the fourth, cattle on the fifth, horses the sixth, and humans on the seventh.

She initially crafted humans by hand from loess, and instead of the body of a snake (which she had), she gave humans two legs. Her creations, happy to be alive, scampered about joyfully, and she got excited and made more by taking two pieces of rope together and splashing mud about; the splutters turned into more humans. Apparently, this is the reason why social classes exist, with the descendants of the handcrafted humans lording it over the descendants of the splutter-derived humans.

Another peculiarity in my family is that Renri is only celebrated through retelling this story on this day, and no more, because of modernisation and because the family converted to Christianity a while back. In other families, Renri is celebrated with feasts and other customs such as mountain-climbing and making offerings to Nuwa.

I shall leave you with a picture which I remember seeing as a child of Nuwa and her brother and husband Fuxi, the creator of marriage, surrounded by stars. Enjoy!