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House Cleaning


09:23, November 09, 2011

Between Laba Festival, on the eighth day of the last lunar month, and Little New Year, on the twenty-third day, families throughout China undertake a thorough house cleaning, sweeping out the old in preparation for the New Year.

It is believed that in order to ensure the ghosts and deities' timely departure, people must thoroughly clean both their persons and their dwellings, down to every last drawer and cupboard.

Why do people clean house during the last month of the year? According to Chinese folk beliefs, during the last month of the year ghosts and deities must choose either to return to Heaven or to stay on Earth. It is believed that in order to ensure the ghosts and deities' timely departure, people must thoroughly clean both their persons and their dwellings, down to every last drawer and cupboard.

Furthermore, as New Year's Eve approaches, all family affairs must be put in order, in order to ensure a fresh start in the new year. Spring Festival falls during the off season for farming, making this a convenient time of year for a thorough house cleaning.

New Year's cleaning includes organizing the yard, as well as scrubbing the doors, windows, and interior of the house. Old couplets and papercuts from the previous Spring Festival are taken down, and new window decorations, New Year's posters, and auspicious decorations are pasted up.

Preparations for Spring Festival include stocking up on necessary provisions. At noon on New Year's Eve Day, shopkeepers everywhere put up their shutters and lock their doors, not to reopen until the end of Spring Festival several weeks later. Therefore, everything needed to make offerings to the ancestors, entertain guests, and feed the family over the long holiday must be purchased in advance.

Before setting out to the market, a Spring Festival shopping list must be made, including items such as meat, poultry, and eggs; fruit and vegetables; rice and flour; cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, and tea; red paper, images of celestial horses and the Kitchen God, incense and candles, snacks, new calendars, and toys. Also not to be forgotten are new clothes for the children and firecrackers to welcome in the New Year.

After the Spring Festival provisions have been brought home, it's time to make further preparations for the holiday. These may include slaughtering pigs, packing blood sausage, making tofu, steaming New Year's sticky rice cakes, and making fry bread. This must all be done in advance, since no cooking may be done from New Year's Eve until well into the first month of the new year.

As a result, starting at Little New Year, families everywhere are caught up in preparations for the New Year's holiday. A saying popular in Beijing vividly expresses the holiday spirit of China's Spring Festival: "Eat sticky candy on the twenty-third; sweep clean the house on the twenty-fourth; fry up tofu on the twenty-fifth; stew some mutton on the twenty-sixth; kill the rooster on the twenty-seventh; set dough to rise on the twenty-eighth; steam mantou buns on the twenty-ninth; stay up all night on New Year's Eve; pay holiday visits on New Year's Day."


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