The tradition of Start of Winter
The Customs of the Start of Winter in Benxi City
Benxi of Liaoning Province is a multi-ethnic city. There are more than 20 nationalities living here, including Han, Manchu, Hui, North Koreans, and Mongolians. Among them, the population of Manchu achieves 410,000 humans. The Start of Winter, when the autumn crops have been stored in the storage, is the festival for the Manchu Eight Banners and Han Eight Banners to burn incense and offer sacrifices to their ancestors. The “huan yuan xiang” (the incense to redeem a vow to the god) and “tai ping xiang” (the incense to pray for peace) of the Manchu Eight Banners, in particular, are held on Start of Winter Day. The main activity of Han Eight Banner is to “play the god of tiger.”
Most rituals are performed in the early winter. The sacrifice offered by the Manchu Eight Banners is called the “shao hunxiang.” It lasts 5 to 7 days, and three pigs are sacrificed during this period. The first pig is sacrificed to heaven, the second for family ancestors and the third for “Mother Waili.” The rituals follow the rules of Shamanism, and are very solemn. For the ten days before it, the whole family eats no meat. In the three days of preparing the sacrificial food, the housewife may not use any makeup, or even soap. When washing the millet to make wine, she must knee down on the ground. The wine is only allowed open on the day of the sacrifice. The incense powder is made of azaleas flower. It is put in a bowl and burned for at least a night. In ancient time, the pigs were killed with a slender pointed piece of Chinese oak. And nowadays, the shaman shanks the pigs with a knife in his left hand. Before the slaughter, a cup of wine is poured in the ears of the pig, and if the pig flaps its ears, it means that the ancestors will accept the sacrifice. If not, the shaman and the whole family knee down and pray until the pig flaps its ears. The ritual goes on and on and everyone is grateful, except the pig.
The common farmer family can afford the “shao hunxiang” every three to five years, while the “taiping xiang” could be performed every year, in which the sacrifice was replaced with chickens. It is also referred to as “shao suxiang.”
The “burning the incense and playing the god of tiger” of the Han Eight Banners is a very boisterous ritual in which the actors sing, speak and play, especially the actor who plays the god of tiger. He is asked to play the tiger energetically, rolling and jump or even climbing on the roof with his bare feet in the tiger claw shoes. In addition, he also has to perform all kinds of acrobatics and Kong Fu. It is so brilliant that people from far away come to see the fun.