The informant is my father who has always grown up in Taiwan but came to America for grad school. Understanding both cultures, he has a very wide understanding of the traditions in our household and its practices.
Informant: 清明節 (Qing Ming Jie) – Tomb-sweeping day is a day of respecting one’s ancestors and going to their burial grounds to pray and clean their tombs. In our family, our ancestors are all on a big mountain with a very large grave that holds all of my ancestor’s ashes. Due to the large mountain and many other patrons, there is a group that stays there and periodically cleans the gravesites monthly. So because we do not have to do any of the cleaning, we bring food and drinks to offer to our ancestors. Inside the tomb site, we have a whiteboard that we use to leave our names down every time we visit. It has become a tradition for us to all write our names down every visit along with the date. Because you and your cousins are in America, you guys cannot attend Tomb Sweeping day, so we always write down your names instead.
I always understood that this day was to sweep your ancestors’ tombs, but since I have never experienced it, I never had to do any of the tomb sweeping myself. Honestly, my dad said that after our ancestors have bought that specific land on the mountain, we have never had to do any of the tomb sweeping, which in a sense defeats the whole purpose of the tradition. To better accommodate the traditional holiday in Taiwan, it has become a family reunion day for our family.
The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.
Our house has specific dishes that we make:
蛤蠣 (Ha Li)- These are small clams. After eating the clams, we put the clam shells under the table. this is to signify having money, as olden times clams were a symbol of money and wealth with pearls and such.
年糕 (Nian Gao)- This is rice cakes. This is a homophone to 年高 (Nian Gao) which implies promotions or prosperity year after year.
鯧魚 (Chang Yu) – A type of butterfish. we are supposed to eat fish because it is also a homophone in an idiom 年年有餘 (Nian Nian You Yu). This means to wish abundance year after year, so every lunar new year we eat fish. In my family, we eat this specific type of fish.
I personally do not know why we eat that specific fish, I do not think it was because it was anyone’s favorite or anything. I think it was just a really cheap fish back in my grandparent’s time so it kind of became custom to eat that specific fish. We still practice all of these traditions today, including putting the clams underneath the table. This was interesting to hear because I had never asked or understood what doing all these actions implied, because I was rarely in Taiwan to celebrate lunar new year, I had no idea what or why my family would do such specific things.
“Going to Disneyland every year is a Funk family tradition. It started when we were kids because Aunt Ce lived in Anaheim, so ostensibly we all went to see Aunt Ce but we were really just all going to Disneyland. And we saw Aunt Ce. So we usually met the Gritch kids, and sometimes Aunt Sonia, Uncle Ray, and Susie once a year and then we all went to Disneyland. But it was mainly the Gritch kids, and that’s why doing this girl’s weekend—we did this as kids, we would meet at Aunt Ce’s house and go to Disneyland. This girl’s weekend is re-establishing the tradition. We did it almost every year, certainly my family went up at least once a year but most years the Gritches came down and we all met. And when you guys were little, we met with Georgina and Rob once a year. It’s a family thing to do to meet at Aunt Ce’s and go to Disneyland, and then of course our family goes every year. We still meet with Aunt Lynne, or Georgina, Tina, and Polly so it’s still very much a Funk family thing.”
This is one of the traditions of family reunions in the family on the side of my informant’s mother. Though they also met in the summer at a lake in Minnesota every year, the Disneyland tradition was more intimate and only included the closer cousins, rather than the whole extended family. Disneyland wasn’t necessarily a central location, but it was a fun place that all ages of the family could enjoy, and all of the children of her generation have continued the tradition with their own children as much as possible. Indeed, the tradition is to see a rebirth in the form of a female family Disney trip, reinforcing the notion that Disneyland is associated with family. This would engender a good feeling in the family, because everyone would be enjoying themselves thanks to the locale, and thus would also be happy about those whey were with.