Spring has started in NZ and with that lots of wet and rainy days. At May’s school they even celebrated Gumbrella day, a day in which the kids will celebrate the joys of rainy spring days by playing games that involve either their gumboots or their umbrella.
May has been asking me for an umbrella all winter and so far I’ve managed to hold it off. She has a perfectly good raincoat and gumboots to keep her dry. Umbrellas are not so good when it’s windy and it can get really windy. Somehow just before Gumbrella day, she managed to get me to agree to buy her an umbrella.
As soon as May got her umbrella,June wanted one too. She’s only two though! I could envision two umbrellas running around out of control and told them they will have to share. For the next two days, May fervently prays for it to rain (and it didn’t, Gumbrella day ended up being a beautiful sunny day, with the kids sweating under their raincoats) and June trying to take control of the umbrella. I gave up in the end and bought another one.
What is it about umbrellas that draws to kids to it. I remember feeling the same way about them. I remember feeling more grown up, sophisticated even a little magical when I carried an umbrella.
Somehow that magic is lost when we grow up. Now I feel carrying an umbrella is a hassle especially when I need to be holding on to June’s hands, carry my own bag, and whatever else there is to carry. I don’t bother with them anymore, I just put on my parka, it keeps me much drier anyway.
When I was little, I remember very well that it was a great taboo to open up an umbrella inside the house, I would get told off immediately whenever I attempted it (which was often at first). When I asked why, mum would tell me it is like “dead people”. Only years later did she explain that when a Chinese person dies, as they are taken out of their house, a family member would hold a black umbrella to shield them. This is to prevent their spirit from being left behind in the house. Mum tells me she remembers very well when her father died and he was shielded by an umbrella as the family wheeled him out of the house.
Reading around a little on the internet, it seems this umbrella taboo is not just a Chinese superstition but shared by other cultures as well.
Sometimes, opening an umbrella inside the house can be a good thing too. When my husband and I got married, we followed some of the Chinese traditions. There are many versions to these traditions. This version is what often happens in a Surabayan style wedding (or so I’ve been told). Usually in a Chinese wedding, there is no walking down the aisle (there is no Church part, although we were blessed at the reception by our old minister), instead the groom gets picked up by male members of the bride’s family from his home. Then he as well as his grooms’ men would come to the bride’s home. He is greeted at the door by the bride’s parents and welcomed into the family. Then he is escorted by the bride’s parents, but he has to walk backwards all the way to the bride’s room where they “bump bums” and meet. They then feed each other a sweet broth that contains noodles and semi hard eggs. The sweetness is for happiness, the noodles for longevity and the eggs for fertility. After that is the tea ceremony where the bride and groom offer tea and pay their respects to the elders in the bride’s family and in return are given jewellery or money in a red packet (hong bao). The same ceremony will later be held at the groom’s home.
After all these traditions are done, it is finally time to mingle and enjoy lunch with the bride’s extended family.
As the bride and groom leave the house to go to the groom’s house, they are shielded by a red umbrella, while elder’s from the bride’s family throw rice and coins at them, more fortune, good luck and fertility wishes.
I still have my red wedding umbrella. I really treasure these memories. The wedding reception was beautiful, but it is these traditions that create the most enduring memories from that day.