A Tradition of Kindness

20 February 2019

Yesterday was full moon. It was also the grand finale of a 15 day Lunar New Year celebration, also known as the Spring Festival.

Depending on one’s dialect group, there are many traditional practices and taboos observed by the Chinese to ensure an auspicious year ahead.

The use of red, vermillion and gold on furnishings and clothes to symbolise the aspiration for abundance is well known. The importance of guarding one’s speech against any unwholesome or inauspicious talk is observed by many at least for the first few days of the celebration.

A telephone booth on Kinmen Island, my grandmother’s birth place.

Every year I take note of a practice that was handed down by my grandmother. And that is, all needlework of any kind involving sewing or stitching together of anything is not permitted during the new year season.

My grandmother was a very skilled needleworker who could embroider perfectly symmetrical patterns from memory. I had never seen her make any outlines on the fabric to guide her.

And among the many chinese new year traditions that she observed, the no-sewing on new year seemed to reign supreme.

In those days grandmother’s prohibition posed some level of inconvenience to the womenfolk in our home. Not only did they make their own clothes but also some last minute alterations on store bought garments for their children was inevitable.

But the no-sewing rule on new year’s day stayed.

And her reason for observing such a bizarre ban?

风师爷 or stone lion protector at my grandmother’s village in Kinmen Island (金门后浦)

She told me we should refrain from sewing during the spring celebration no matter how badly we wanted to mend that tear, because around this period, lots of baby animals that had been born blind were also due to open their eyes.

And our act of sewing during this period, although seemingly unrelated, could very well cause these infants’ eyes to be sewn shut forever.

And just because we didn’t raise animals didn’t mean we could do as we liked.

My grandmother could have inherited this belief from her birthplace of Kinmen Island, where ancient folk beliefs abound.

Though she never showed any special interest in animals, her determination not to perform a domestic chore that could potentially harm them showed that my grandmother was keeping a tradition that she understood & felt deeply.

I’m now my grandmother’s age and holding a friend’s cat called Frankie.

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