Monday, 26 January 2009

Chinese New Year customs

In winter all is bare, but suddenly plum blossom unfolds and everything is beautiful. That's why plum blossom is a symbol of the Chinese New Year. People buy branches to put in the house along with other auspicious things like orange trees and pots of narcissus. Sometimes a business will have an entire plum tree - it brings good fortune at a time when all around is gloomy.

About a thousand years ago, a poet was exiled south of the Yangtze, in those days to the wilderness. It was not a good idea to communicate with someone who was in disfavour with the Emperor. So the poet's friend sent a bare branch on the long journey south. When it arrived, it burst into flower. So the poet wrote a poem of appreciation for his friend. The Emperor is forgotten now, but the poem, and the friendship it commemorated, lives on.

The poem means a lot to me because it was in a collection compiled by a man whose work I was researching. He was maligned savagely by the government of the time, but he did good deeds and had courage. Little did I know that his descendant was someone I went to kindergarten with. So when she gave me his book of favourite poems, it meant a lot.

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