Today is the day when Chinese New Year celebrations officially starts. 小年 xiǎonián, literally “Small New Year”, falls on the 23rd of the last month of the lunar calendar (腊月 làyuè). Today, 灶王爷 Zào Wángye, the Kitchen God or Stove God, will return to Heaven to report the good and bad deeds every household has committed over the past year, and the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝 Yùhuángdàdì) will reward or punish each household accordingly.
When families send the Kitchen God off, they prepare candy, water, straw, and other necessities for the God himself and his horse, and put these offerings in front of his statue or image. In order to make the Kitchen God sugar-lipped, they melt sugar then apply it on the Kitchen God lips so he could say nice things about them in front of the Emperor (kind of like a bribe really). In the past, there was also the tradition of “男不拜月, 女不祭灶”, which meant that only men would pay tribute to the Kitchen God, as the women had to clean the stove and the kitchen.
Of course, aside from buttering up the Kitchen God, there are other activities on xiaonian that also start the Spring Festival celebrations.
A year-end cleaning takes place in all households, and every family makes sure that the entire house or apartment is free of dust, so that they can 除旧迎新 (get rid of the old and welcome the new). After the cleaning, it is time to put up New Year decorations: red paper cuttings for window decorations (窗花 chuānghuā), spring scrolls (春联 chūnlián), and special goods for the Spring Festival (年货 niánhuò). Shopping for nianhuo takes more than one day, and nowadays this is another good period for Taobao and other e-commerce sites to promote their products.
From the 25th of the lunar month to the eve of the Spring Festival, this period is considered to be non-restrictive, since the Kitchen God has already left for Heaven. All the gods and demons are also on holiday, so traditionally this is the best few days to get married.
Are you celebrating xiaonian? Let us know what custom you are following!
Cover Image of Kitchen God from Wikimedia Commons