The Buddhist Temple in Colentina was the host of yesterday’s Chinese New Year celebrations, where members of the Chinese community – joined by a few of their Romanian friends – greeted the Year of the Fire Monkey.

The festivities started out with a religious ceremony, the priestess and the worshipers praying for peace, prosperity and health, followed by a celebratory vegetarian dinner. Romanian guests gifted pineapples, pomelos, mangoes and other fruit to their hosts at the temple and were invited to take part in the New Year ceremony.

The New Year’s mass was more comprehensive than usual, and was preceded by a more intimate ceremony the prior evening. During the ceremony – officiated by Hsu Chin-huan, as per tradition, incense was burnt and devotional bows were made for personal well-being, health and safety, as well as for the country’s peace and prosperity. The prayers follow a pattern, beginning with wishes for all the people in the country and gradually narrowing the circle to the worshiper’s own parents. Other prayers aim at balancing the elements of nature: mellow winds, punctual rainfall, harmonious coexistence of all cycles and elements, protection from disasters.

“People should prepare before these disasters occur, they should prevent them; unfortunately, we are too slow, so all we do is react. But if we are good, there will be fewer disasters, no more unfortunate events. Natural catastrophes are merely consequences: people’s actions are weighed on the scales, and the punishment is proportionate, based on the cause and effect principle. Nothing happens by chance; everything is given by God,” says the priestess.

Dozens of Chinese citizens visited the temple on the first day of the new year, accompanied by their families and friends or by themselves, in order to burn incense and pray for health and prosperity. Among them, Li Rouci, who has been living in Romania for 20 years. Li was even baptized in the Orthodox faith, receiving a Romanian name – Maria. She is an exception in the Chinese community of Bucharest, because her Romanian is very good.

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We asked Maria about Chinese New Year customs, and she explained: “The first day of the year is very important; people must pray and everything must be washed for the year to go well. Sometimes we make donations, and we always gather together and eat our traditional food, dumplings. The shape of Chinese dumplings is similar to that of ancient gold ingots, and so they symbolize money. (…) Families get together. Young couples spend the evening with the husband’s family, and the first day of the year, with the wife’s. Last night, everybody was together with their families. Nowadays it is fashionable to celebrate the New Year at the restaurant, not at home. Yet many of us stayed home. I did.”

Maria married a Romanian man and they live in Pantelimon. A translator by profession, she is now a homemaker, and also very interested in religion. “I was baptized here under a Romanian name, Maria, in the Orthodox faith. I said to myself that it doesn’t matter; God is one – the language may be different, but God is one, He just sent the saints separately for each people. And just as the Pope in Italy said we must unite and celebrate Easter at the same time, I think it is normal and this should have been done a long time ago, because Jesus Christ cannot be born in March for you and April for me. What is that? What does that mean? I have read the Koran and the Bible alike, I’ve asked an Arab man about Muslim prayers and he said they pray to God, Allah – that’s what everybody does, they pray to God, and then to the saints. Saints were sent on Earth in different times and different languages, but the underlying meaning is the same.”

As per usual, the New Year’s dinner at the temple was vegetarian, and the generous feast included miangao – two-tone festive cookies made of rice flour. The white part of the cookie symbolizes a fresh new start, while the black is for all the bad things that have happened and must remain in the past. Of course, food waste is completely unacceptable at the temple, and so everything is eaten, until the very last grain of rice.

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Home, Chinese traditions have been adapted to a Western lifestyle. Jongmao Chong told us he spent the previous night with a friend: they cooked dumplings stuffed with cabbage, mushrooms and onion, drank Pepsi and watched TV.

The Chinese have entered the Year of the Fire Monkey, meaning that those who are born this year are more exposed to both positive and negative experiences. They can achieve great success, but they can also fall into the other extreme, says the priestess. Nonetheless, protective ceremonies are held at the Buddhist temple for everybody’s safety.

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