“To catch the first year” would be the literal translation of “抓周”, a ceremony that takes place when a new born child turns 1 year old.
In a very traditional (and privileged) Chinese family, the ceremony would be very elaborate: rituals and sacrifices for deities will be made; many relatives would flock to the house with gifts; the grandmother of the child (on the mother’s side) would be the host of the ceremony.
But the essential ceremony is the same in privileged families as well as non-privileged ones: a variety of different items would be laid out in front of the child, and he or she will have to choose one object. This object would be more or less a prophecy on the child’s future career.
The objects that are to be laid out can vary greatly from family to family. In our case, the informant recalls the list in her household, which includes:
A book – which, if picked, would indicate that the child is fit to be a scholar.
Pen and paper – the child would be a writer or a painter.
A seal – the child would hold power.
A Chinese abacus – the child would be fit for business or accounting.
A chicken wing – the child would be very fortunate, he/she would never be hungry or miserable.
A ruler – the child would be fit for architecture or engineering or design
A leek – the child would be very smart.
A garlic – the child would be meticulous and great at calculations
A celery – the child would be diligent
A straw – the child would be a prosperous farmer.
A sword – the child would enroll in the military.
This ceremony is still practiced by a considerable number of families, but more and more families (particularly the more educated population) are putting less and less stock in the ceremony, and either dismiss it completely or use it only for entertainment.
The informant is my mother. She knows of this ceremony because her family has been an active participant of it. She refuses, however, to tell me of either her pick or mine; she does not believe that its right to attempt to look at a child’s future through a random act at the age of 1.
Chinese tradition has always been very restricting – almost to the degree of oppression – when it comes to a family heir’s future. This tradition of 抓周 serves as yet another example of it. It is a relief, nonetheless, to see how many modern Chinese citizen are now abandoning the tradition.