Worship with a wobble: the new trend of offering jelly to your ancestors
As many Thai-Chinese are preparing food to worship Gods, their ancestors, and wandering spirits on Chinese New Year, there are questions as to whether “modern” food is suitable for being placed on an altar/table.
We have discussed this before. During the Chinese New Year in Thailand, there are often new and not-so-typical offerings on the market. We’ve questioned whether KFC fried chicken or the teen’s favorite Korean-style BonChon is suitable for the occasion instead of a boiled whole chicken. This year though, the doubts are focused on the Thai invention of jelly shaped into miniature-sized typical offerings such as a pig’s head, whole duck, and whole chicken.
The jelly has gained the attention of the young generation. It’s fun and convenient and they could enjoy eating it too after worshipping. However, it is not a popular choice for all. Some are asking “will it be okay?” And “I wonder whether my late grandparents would approve of this?”
Somchai Kwangtongpanich, a community historian and Chinatown expert who has lived in the area for nearly six decades, said this is really divided into two issues – economic and tradition.
On the economic front, the jelly being promoted is on sale as a set that can be placed on a table for roughly 800 baht. Many people have cited the economic downturn as the reason why jelly could be an interesting substitute for real meat. On this issue, Somchai, who is also a guest university lecturer on Chinese culture, said that he didn’t think he would spend that sum for fake stuff because with that money – 800 baht or so – he can find the real thing albeit in a smaller size.
“But first and foremost, I’d ask myself if my ancestors would enjoy it. We normally worship them by giving offerings on Chinese New Year – things that they used to enjoy. That was just our practical interpretation of the tradition.”
He said the old generation taught their offspring about Chinese tradition, and the second generations of Chinese migrants in Thailand still followed the tradition and custom. “However, the present generations (Babyboomers and Gen X) have a different way of raising their children. They’re afraid of kids or grandkids going through hardship so they’re quite relaxed about the tradition.”
But still, Somchai like many other Thai-Chinese continues offering “traditional food” including meat, seafood, sweets, and fruit. He worships Gods, ancestors and gives offering to wandering spirits in much the same way as his parents before him.
“I understand if someone doesn’t carry on the tradition, but for those who do, I want to thank them all,” he said.
Everything about paying respect and worshipping on Chinese New Year has its own special reason. For example, Somchai said that the recommended offerings of at least 3 kinds of meat (in whole form) was suitable in the past because a lot of people raised livestock and farmed. In addition, a lot of offerings meant feeding an extended family not a nucleus one like the present day.
Many people may wonder why there are so many entities worship. Somchai explained it as a ploy to have more food. A big family will not have enough food from the worship to go round so there are many worships (different Gods). “But when things change, the excess food could come in handy, I continue the tradition of worship and then give the food and sweets to my staff (at his rope shop).”
Somchai said that he would continue to do things the traditional way but doesn’t judge others who don’t. “As for the jelly, if your ancestors like it, you can use it for worshipping. Why not?
By Veena Thoopkrajae