I remember when I was a child, my mum would always have me participate in a huge and exhausting house cleaning before the Chinese New Year, which could last for several days. It was grueling work, from cleaning the whole house top to bottom, cleaning all the dishes we didn’t normally use, all the laundry including the curtains to throwing away worn out things that I still wanted to keep.
We had to finish everything before the Spring Festival Eve, so we could sit back and enjoy the holiday. In Chinese, cleaning is pronounced as sao chen (扫尘), and chen (dust) sounds the same to 陈, which means “the past”, so cleaning at the end of the year is also a symbol to get over the past and welcome the coming year.
Besides the homophony, there is also a story behind the tradition. In the story, there is an evil god called Sanshi god(三尸神) who frequently loved to bad mouth and talk ill of humans in front of the Jade Emperor, the god of all Chinese gods.
One day towards the year end, the Sanshi god reported to the Jade Emperor that the humans were planning to rebel against the Emperor’s power. This was in fact however the Jade Emperor believed it, which made him get angry and offended.
He then ordered the Sanshi god to mark the families who did not respect the Jade Emperor with cobwebs so as to punish them later. The Sanshi god had marked almost every household, when his ploy was discovered by the Kitchen god who tipped the humans to clean their houses very carefully and thoroughly.
When the Jade Emperor sent another god to check for the marks during Chinese New Year, there wasn’t anything found that resulted to the humans being spared the Emperor’s wrath and enjoyed a peaceful Spring Festival. The practice of house cleaning was then handed down from generation to generation.
Do you know why people suddenly all dress in red? Or why all the doors are pasted with red decorations? Why is the occasion marked with a big dinner for and fireworks? Why is Spring Festival, or chunjie (春节), also called guonian (过年), which literally means "survive the year"? Read part (1) of the blog here.
Photo by beggs (Flickr)