Ritual, a simple act turned sacred.

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

Dedicated to my Gung Gung Wong Shek Chau (1930 - 2019)

I remember waking up Sunday mornings excited to eat. My mom, dad, and two brothers would pack into our blue Mazda van and drive across town to Chinatown to meet my gung gung and pau pau for dim sum at the New Asia Restaurant on Pacific street. My mom’s parents were my only living grandparents then. We’d gather around the table spinning the lazy susan for an infinite spread of delicious Chinese dishes to share. It is here, at this table, where I picked up most of my cultural cues, like pouring tea for my elders to show my respect. To serve food to my parents before myself meant honoring the divine order of the household. Laying my chopsticks down to rest signified I was full.

Me and Gung Gung. Temple of Heaven.

Beijing, China. Circa 1988.

My grandparents made the simple act of eating sacred. This is my first memory of a ritual.

The Wong Family. Grandparents - Wong Shek Chau and Lam Siu. Hong Kong. Circa 1967.

Rituals exist in space and time. They come from our past, an inheritance left by our ancestors. A treasure trove of stories filled with social and cultural clues. These instructions are passed down from generation to generation. Rituals are a sequence of actions carried out and performed. We embody what we believe in. It’s a way to presence us to the connection to our past. They help us remember who we are.

The Mui family. Grandparents - Mar Ngan Fung and Henry Mui.

Studio in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Circa 1966.

The Chinese culture is ripe with rituals and traditions. The deceased, newborns, the heavenly bodies, cherry blossoms, animals, everything is honored in time and through action. Nothing is insignificant. Everything has meaning. The time of the year when my family performs the most rituals is Chinese New Year. I remember as a young girl sweeping the floors, my mom stocking our fruit bowl with oranges, visiting my relatives, the excitement of receiving a red envelope, coming together for a feast to honor the year closing and welcome in the new one. It’s a spirited time to honor our households, families, heavenly deities, & ancestors. The ways we celebrate are infinite. Not one family does it the same. We are lead by the intention to invite good fortune, practice honor, and to bring harmony into our lives.

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival is the most celebrated holiday in Chinese culture. Traditionally, the festivities begin with the new moon, and it lasts about 15 days until the full moon arrives with the Festival of Lanterns. Each day during this two week celebration has a set of rituals and customs. This is serious business. What we do during this time informs what we experience during the year. I admit that I am no expert, but I am committed to remember, question, and continue to make the connection between how and why my people do what they do.

Sketches and artwork development for Year of the Rooster calendar. Circa 2017.

Art by Ashley Mui

Chinese New Years is rooted in the lunar calendar. This measurement of time is structured around a 12-year cycle that celebrates 12 animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Legend has it that when the Earth Spirit was establishing all things on the planet, it held a race of animals to determine the Chinese Lunar Calendar system. Each year is represented by an animal, and the qualities and characteristics of the animal give us insight into the future.

My people have been using this system of telling time for centuries. This is ancient technology. It’s source material. A way of fortune telling. Understanding the calendar became a way for me to deeply connect to my culture. The more I learned about the Chinese zodiac wheel, the more I grew to appreciate it. I love it so much that I hand-painted each animal and designed a calendar of my very own. Since the year of the rooster in 2017, I’ve been creating a version of a lunar calendar to honor my family’s heritage. It challenges me to breathe new life into old traditions, and find unique ways to share with others.

Year of The Pig New Years Calendar + Gratuity Included Goods. Handwritten art and photo curated by Stacy Tarver Patterson - @stacystp.

2019 marked the Year of the Pig. This is an exciting time because the Year of the Pig sunsets a 12-year cycle. And on the horizon is a new 12-year cycle with the Year of the Rat. We are experiencing a really powerful time of transition. Closing out this cycle means the death of old habits, relationships, and ways of being. The spirit of the pig teaches us to honor endings. And as the Lunar New Year begins on January 25th, 2020, we have an opportunity to start something new and see things with a fresh perspective. The spirit of the rat invites us to embrace beginnings. This ritual continues to nourish me, and has taught me to respect the process of all things.

My grandparents laid the foundation to making an ordinary, everyday action, sacred. Creating the calendar bridges my past, present, and future. I found intrinsic value through the discovery and creation process of the lunar calendar. I began to decode the intel embedded in the sequence, the characters, and the symbols. It’s an intimate journey toward enlightenment. This is a spiritual practice. And the beauty with creating rituals is that as I evolve, so does the practice. Over time what becomes of it is a trail of artifacts, stories, and traditions worthy of passing down to future generations. And the idea of offering morsels of wisdom to feed the spirit of my family brings me double happiness. I leave you with an ancient Chinese secret: Our rituals become our legacy.

Learn more about Ashley's practice via her brand, #GratuityIncluded