Thursday, 12 February 2015

Xiao Guo Nian

Little New Year

Chinese New Year takes place over 15 days and preparations for this celebration begin well over 1 month before the start of the new year. Here's a brief guide on the festivities and customs that take place during this annual event.

On the 24th day of the 12th month of the Chinese lunar calendar is Xiao Guo Nian ("Little New Year"). On this day, the deities of the world report to the supreme deity, Yu Huang ("Jade Emperor"). Families will offer special food offerings to the Zao Jun ("Kitchen God") so that he will speak well of the family to the emperor. Firecrackers are lit to bid farewell to the deities and spring cleaning begins

Houses are swept clean prior to the new year and traditionally, bamboo leaves are used as this is believed to drive out bad spirits. There should be no sweeping on the lunar new year itself as people believe that doing so sweeps away good luck. Festive decorations and symbols are put up around the house, like pots of kumquat and flowers, red scrolls or posters with auspicious sayings or Chun Lian ("Spring Couplets"). New clothes and haircut are also required for every individual in the family.

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Kitchen God - Zao Jun
In Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and Taoism; The Kitchen God also known as the Stove God, named Zao Jun, Zao Shen, or Zhang Lang, is the most important of a plethora of Chinese domestic gods that protect the hearth and family. The Kitchen God is celebrated in Vietnamese culture as well.

It is believed that on the twenty fourth day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year he returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Jun's yearly report.

Traditionally, every Chinese household would have a paper effigy or a plaque of Zao Jun and his wife (who writes down everything that is said in the household over the year for her husband's report to Jade Emperor) above the fireplace in the kitchen. This tradition is still widely practiced, and Zao Jun was the most highly worshiped god of those who protect the household and family. Offerings of food and incense are made to Zao Jun on his birthday (the third day of the eighth lunar month) and also on the twenty fourth day of the twelfth lunar month, which marks his return to Heaven to give his New Year's report to the Jade Emperor. On this day, the lips of Zao Jun's paper effigy are often smeared with honey to sweeten his words to Yu Huang (Jade Emperor), or to keep his lips stuck together. After this, the effigy will be burnt and replaced by a new one on New Year's Day. Firecrackers are often lit as well, to speed him on his way to heaven. If the household has a statue or a nameplate of Zao Jun it will be taken down and cleaned on this day for the new year.

Many customs are associated with the Kitchen god, especially defining the date of the "Kitchen god festival", also known as "Little New Year". It is noted that the date differed depending on the location. It is believed that people in northern China celebrate it on the twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month, while the people in southern China celebrate it on the twenty-fourth. Along with location, traditionally the date may also be determined by one's Profession. For example, "feudal officials made their offerings to the Kitchen god on the twenty-third, the common people on the twenty-fourth, and coastal fishing people on the twenty-fifth". In addition, generally it was the males of the household that lead the sacrificial rites.

In order to establish a fresh beginning in the New Year, families must be organized both within their family unit, in their home, and around their yard. This custom of a thorough house cleaning and yard cleaning is another popular custom during "Little New Year". It is believed that in order for ghosts and deities to depart to Heaven, both their homes and "persons" must be cleansed. Lastly, the old decorations are taken down, and there are new posters and decorations put up for the following Spring Festival.

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