After a wonderful feast to welcome the Year of Snake, I paid a visit to Longhua Temple just before midnight to pray for good fortunes for the upcoming year. Among devout followers, this first prayer (烧头香) is very important. The taxi dropped us off a few blocks away from the temple due to the heavy traffic. I really had never heard of this practice to attend temple at New Years, but I suppose it’s comparable to the practice of Christmas mass in Christian traditions. As we walked up to the temple, the city was in a complete frenzy filled with fireworks. As we walked, firecrackers were being set off from the ground near us, and fireworks were flying in the air above. Amidst this great energy, there was a sight that was rather heartbreaking. Beggars lined the street leading up to the temple, knowing the devout followers came equipped with certain amount of money. Getting into the temple to pray for good fortune doesn’t come cheaply, at 300RMB a ticket, it is not for everyone. Fortunately our tickets were a gift from friends, but nevertheless I find the concept of paying to enter a place of worship to pray a bit strange.
Our entry ticket came with a free set of incents. Incents are to be burned, symbolizing prayers being carried up above for the gods to acknowledge. The entire square was filled with people, smoke and the smell of incent filled the air. I haven’t been to a temple in years, and as I stood saying my prayers, memories from my childhood came rushing back. For a moment, I was at once brought back to my past, yet very emotional at the lack of this practice in my current life.
After I finally let go of my incents and disposed them into the pit of fire, we took a tour of the rest of the temple. Around the temple, there are many gods to worship, and each corner was filled with people. In addition to the entry fee, there were many ways you can add a little extra money to ensure your fortune for the year goes further. I spent 20RMB for a good health ribbon and put my family’s names on it. It doesn’t hurt to hold onto some beliefs and hopeful vibes.
I left the temple feeling hopeful and was glad to have participated in this traditional event. While money doesn't buy happiness, it appears that perhaps money can buy some hopefulness.