Text by Ni Junchen
The eighth day of the twelfth month on the Chinese lunar calendar on January 19, 2013, kicked off the biggest holiday in the country. Atop millions of breakfast tables are rice porridge with nuts and dried fruit. People welcome Spring Festival by worshipping the kitchen god, thoroughly cleaning the house, laundering clothing to get rid of bad luck, posting antithetical couplets, cooking loads of food, and purchasing new clothes.
Over the last few years, China has seen a rapid economic development and increasing cultural exchange with Western countries. More Chinese festivals are becoming recognized overseas. Nevertheless, Westerners’ most common introduction to the spirit of the ancient Chinese culture via TV programs displaying dragon dances or decorative lanterns and streamers doesn’t do the holiday justice. One of the most amazing social phenomena in the history of mankind occurs annually when almost all Chinese people travel simultaneously and the entire country seems to stop working at the same moment.
This is tradition. It is the moment people bid farewell to the past year and welcome the new, pay homage to their ancestors, socialize with relatives and friends, and pray for prosperity.
Among the many customs, the most typical is worshipping gods. The 23rd day of the twelfth month marks “Xiaonian,” or pre-New Year, when people offer candies to the Kitchen God, hoping he will speak kindly of them to the Jade Emperor. When the bell of the New Year rings, people welcome the gods with booming fireworks. Of the many gods, the God of Fortune, the most “adorable,” receives special worship on the 5th day of the first lunar month.
New Year’s Eve dinner is the most important and biggest meal of the year to reunite the family and honor ancestors. In many places families still start dinner by placing food in front of memorial tablets on the table and “inviting” their ancestors home. Today, many families have New Year’s Eve dinner in a restaurant, but they still won’t begin eating before cherishing memories of their lost family members. The awareness of bloodlines and family is thus reinforced.