Hoyu fest draws gods, goddesses

Posted: February 27, 2012

ANCIENT Chinese gods and goddesses looking 12 feet tall strolled into Chinatown around noon yesterday to the clash of cymbals and the beating of drums as the heavy smoke from incense sticks wafted through the air.

The fourth annual Hoyu Folk Culture Festival attracted participants from Philly, New York and Washington, and also hundreds of onlookers who gathered on 10th Street, mostly between Arch and Cherry.

Boys and young men in lion costumes jiggled their lion heads as they marched to Chinatown's Friendship Gate.

On tables draped in red cloths, elaborate food offerings were prepared for the gods - including a pig in a boat, ducks, geese, chicken, fish, mussels, pyramids of oranges and apples, candy red dates and watermelon seeds.

The festival, sponsored by the Philadelphia Hoyu Chinese American Association, honors the birthday of the general who more than 1,000 years ago founded Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province in southeastern China, said Jack Zhang, president of the association.

Zhang said there were 28 gods and goddesses in the parade. In addition to honoring them and the founding general, the festival aims to promote world peace and economic prosperity, he said, as traditional opera performers danced and sang in their high-pitched voices for the gods on a stage at 10th and Arch.

Members of the Chinese American community bought sticks of incense - one for each god - and walked from table to table, bowing their heads and praying to their ancestors and to the gods with the burning incense sticks. They also burned "paper money," another offering to the gods.

Joi Cheung, 26, of Bear, Del., whose father is the association's treasurer, said that after she made her rounds that she prayed for better business this year and "for prosperity in the new year for me, my family and friends." She is a partner at the Kitchen Cabinet Co., in Springfield, Delaware County.

Joanna Chan, 35, of Northeast Philly, said she prayed for peace and prosperity for her family and the world as fireworks pop-pop-popped nearby, adding to the day's festivities.

Later in the afternoon, association members and others celebrated at a banquet at the Joy Tsin Lau restaurant, on Race Street near 11th. Mabel Chan, the restaurant's owner, served as the beautiful flower fairy during the parade, dressed in a traditional red Chinese dress and carrying a bamboo stick on her shoulder balancing two flower baskets, offerings for an ancient queen.

Hoyu is a small village in Fujian Province. It is famous among Fujianese people as the first place from where people left the province to go live overseas, including moving to Philadelphia over the decades. The association's goals are to promote Chinese and American friendship, help students in school and connect immigrants with their Fujianese roots.

Contact Julie Shaw at 215-854-2592 or shawj@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @julieshawphilly.