During Chinese New Years, my family always places small dishes of food in front of the portrait of a deceased relative. We put flowers, food, and fruit, usually the food they liked, in front of the portrait. My grandma then takes chopsticks and touches each dish to represent that the relative received the food and ate it.
This is a tradition I have grown up with. My mother explained to me that this is a way to keep our relatives close and makes it feel as if they are part of our celebrations. Moreover, it helps us keep their memory alive. This is a Chinese tradition that my family follows every year. My parents perform this tradition every year because their parents use to do it; my parents grew up with the tradition and they are imparting it to the younger generation.
This tradition highlights the high value the Chinese culture places on family; family and ancestors are very important. The Chinese family prides itself on having strong family connections. The remaining family members want to make sure that the deceased relatives are taken care of in their world, serving as an example of filial piety. Filial piety, which is loving, respecting, and paying dutiful attention to elders, is a core value in the Chinese culture. In my family and in other Chinese families that I know, one of the key indicators of well-being is being well-fed and eating good food. Moreover, this Chinese New Years tradition reflects how the Chinese culture is more past-oriented compared to the American culture because this tradition allows my family to keep the past close to us. In actuality, it brings the past to be a part of the present. This may coincide with why the reception after a funeral service is somewhat merrier than the somber mood of the funeral, since the family and guests are celebrating the life of the deceased rather than showing their grief because traditions, such as the Chinese New Years tradition, allows them to feel as the deceased are still with them. It never feels as if they are truly gone.
My grandma always performs the symbolic eating of the ancestors food before anyone begins to eat because in the Chinese culture, to show respect, the elders eat first. If the ancestors were alive, they would be the ones to eat and begin the dinner. By having the ancestors eat first, the family is paying their respects and acting as if the deceased relatives are present.