The old saying in Chinese for the 24th day of the last lunar month (i.e. today) is “二十四扫房日(èr shí sì sǎo fāng rì)”, “The 24th is Cleaning Day.”
As expected, today is the day that the whole family, male and female, the old and the young, devote themselves to a thorough tidy-up: They may clean the yard, wipe down cooking utensils, wash clothes and blinds and throw away worn things.
The origin of the Cleaning Day lies in a story. San Shi Shen (三尸神 sān shī shén), an evil spirit whose job is to tattle on the wrongdoings of humans, reported to the Jade Emperor that the humans planned to rebel against the Court of Heaven (天庭 tiān tíng). The Jade Emperor got very angry and ordered San Shi Shen to draw a mark on the doors of the families who committed the crime of offending the powerful emperor. To wreak havoc, San Shi Shen marked almost every door. The benevolent Kitchen God found out, and suggested that the families do a thorough cleaning after the small Spring Festival, so that when the Jade Emperor sent other gods to check for the marks on lunar New Year’s Eve, there was nothing on anyone’s door, and everyone could enjoy a peaceful Spring Festival.
In the Chinese, “尘” (chén, dust) has the same pronunciation as “陈” (chén, staleness). As a result, to sweep dust (扫尘 sǎochén) also means to sweep away staleness (扫陈 sǎochén) in the house. Doing the cleaning not only makes rooms tidy, it also has the purpose of sweeping away misfortune and welcoming the coming year with a totally new outlook.
Nowadays, while many other traditions are fading away, the house cleaning custom maintains its vitality. On this day, people also would like to buy some New Year woodblock prints or paper-cuts to stick on the windows for decoration.
Worried about what gift to buy your friend for Chinese New Year. Fear no more!