Many Canadians are still figuring out what to do with Family Day. We’d do well to turn to China, midway through Lunar New Year celebrations. After the fireworks and banging drums comes time to honour ancestors and visit with family. The largest annual human migration in the world is an indication of how important that is.
While a lot of foods served during the celebrations have to do with wealth and prosperity, many items you see on the plate connect more with keeping family together. Serving a whole chicken, head to tail, is said to symbolize completeness. A pomelo, that giant yellow citrus fruit, is a sign of family unity. The sweet plate – always served on a round tray – is known as the tray of togetherness. Sweet dumplings indicate reunion and green vegetables mean close family ties.
Think about round shapes and you get the idea of continuity, generation to generation. The circle is a symbol of perfection and unity. So most fruits, in addition to their connection with fertility, romance and health, offer the perfection of a completed family circle.
The tangerines and mandarins we see most often hold that spirit too. They may be more commonly connected with gold because of their colour, but if you receive the sweet fruits with leaves attached, it’s a sign that the relationship between you and your gift giver is secure.
I’ve long been curious about the indoor decorative orange trees. The fruits, my favourite florist says, are too bitter. Not for eating. Many of the cherry blossoms we flock to see in the spring hold similar significance but don’t fruit at all. The symbol has become more important than the thing.
Next Family Day, bring tangerines to your relatives. Eat them together.