Yesterday was Chinese New Year’s Eve. Sadly, it seems a different affair now that my Father-In-Law is gone, no doubt in part because his birthday fell on Chinese New Year’s Eve, according to the Lunar Calendar. Every year, the day was first a celebration of his birthday, followed by the Chinese New Year’s Eve festivities proper.

Yesterday, though, went something like this:

We got up early and went to the old family ancestral home, a short walk from here. On a main street behind a non-descript double doorway, we entered a small courtyard with a few separate rooms off of it. The original construction, I learned, is well over a hundred years old, with lots of exposed beams, wooden walls and doors still in place where they were originally erected. The electrical wiring, what there is of it, has been nailed and stapled to the walls and beams over the decades.

One of the family’s old auntie’s still lives in one of the rooms–the one my wife’s family, all six of them, called home when she was a little tyke. Now all the other rooms are rented out to other people, but because the family still owns it, some pictures of deceased relatives still hang above the family altar in the “main hall.”

As my Mother-In-Law laid out an offering of food and drink, and a package of my Father-In-Law’s favorite cigarettes, on a table in front of his picture, the rest of us began folding numerous reams of Afterlife Money for spending on the other side. (Folding is just to help the stacks burn more easily.) There was also a package contain a paper shirt and cardboard cell phone, watch, and other paraphenalia for use in the afterworld.

Even more elaborate offerings are burned at someone’s funeral. When one of my Wife’s Uncles died when we were here in 1996, this included an elaborate, detailed paper and cardboard mansion, about six feet long and four feet high.

Other relatives–aunts, cousins and so on–gradually began arriving (including the one I think looks like the Chinese John Mellenkamp) as the incense and candles were lit, and then we began burning the money, paper and cardboard accessories, and the package of Double Happiness cigarettes in a big fire ring in the middle of the floor.

After we finished thusly commemorating my Father-In-Law’s birthday, we started all over again with another table and more Afterlife Money in honor of all the departed ancestors, as part of the Chinese New Year observance.


Our evening observances turned out to be rather low key. We simply watched the New Year’s Eve extravaganza broadcast from Beijing on CCTV1. It’s about four hours of song and dance, host chatter, skits and the like. The biggest changes I noticed since last watching in 1997: the fashions have departed even more from Deng Xiaoping-era conservative dress–suits with brown sweaters underneath were nowhere in sight–and lots of the performers and some of the audience seemed more under the influence of Japanese trends than I’ve ever seen in China before. Dudes looked like the Ladies, in some cases.

Finally, at midnight, despite all the new prohibitions against fireworks, it sounded like a dozen full-blown conventional warfare battles were raging across China, from the alleyways to the skies. If there was a break in the explosions in the general vicinity, you could hear the rumblings from near and far, all the way from Beijing, it seemed.

And so began the Year of the Dog.

Ancestral pictures on the wall. My Wife’s Paternal Grandparents are 2nd and 3rd from the left. My Father-In-Law is on the bottom left. The three on the far right belong to another family for reasons I didn’t quite understand–maybe some sort of ancestral home time-share arrangement?:

Other pictures from the morning: