Lunar New Year Tea Ceremony

“Every lunar new year, whenever I’m in Singapore with my family, we would go to my grandparents’ place and we would have a tea ceremony, which meant like me and my entire extended family who lives in Singapore would meet up, and just kind of like eat food together and have tea. The proper ceremony, where it’s like we pass out hongbao, is when the two people you’re honoring are sitting down at a couch, and you have to give tea to them. They are always older, and that’s why you’re honoring them, like your elders. You would do this by giving them blessings and telling them what you wish for them, all the luck and health and fortune you would like to give them for the next year. And you tell them how much they mean to you and you give them tea. And when you do that, they’ll correspond back and give wishes to you, with your hongbao. And you have to do that for your grandparents, uncles, aunts, great uncles, et cetera et cetera.”

Context: This description was gathered from a conversation I had with the teller where I asked for any traditions or festivals that he would recall. The teller has lived in Singapore since childhood, and is currently a student at the University of Southern California. 

Analysis: This tradition occurs within another festivity, that of the Lunar New Year, and thus gains a liminal significance from the transition between the prior year and upcoming year. It is performed primarily by the younger generation to an older generation, although it is expected for the older generation to respond to the initiation by the younger generation. In providing blessings to each party, the participants are in a way enacting preparations for the coming year, whether it be financial or luck-based. In general, as the teller explained, it is a way for participants to recognize, honor, and celebrate familial relationships, a tenet of many East Asian cultures with Confucian influences, at a significant and perhaps magical point in time where it would be the most effective. This particular Lunar New Year tradition experienced by the teller also notably uses the offering of tea as a catalyst for the interaction. Tea, in this case, is invoked to set up the scenario as a social interaction, a gathering of different peoples, as the drink is traditionally used in situations outside of the holiday. Thus, the usage of tea could perhaps be seen as a tool used to help cross otherwise difficult boundaries, especially for those of a younger generation.