BEIJING, Jan. 23 -- Shivering believers crowded the ticket office of the White Cloud Taoist Temple in central Beijing early on Thursday, the kitchen god's day.
"I have come here every year for decades, to burn incense to the kitchen god and meet fellow devotees," said Wu, a woman in her 70s.
Taking three sticks of incense from her bag, Wu lit them, bowed to the gods with the burning incense in her hands, then put them in a censer in front of the altar.
"I also come here on the eve of Spring Festival Eve every year. It will be too crowded on Spring Festival," said Wu.
The kitchen god Zao Shen is one of the most important deities in Taoism and protects the hearth and family.
On the twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before New Year, he is said to return to heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor who either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Shen's annual report.
Senior priest Meng Zhiling, deputy secretary of the Chinese Taoist Association, said the temple, as one of the most prestigious in Beijing, has had busy incense seasons since the 1980s during the Spring Festival holiday.
"The upcoming Spring Festival will bring a tremendous number of people, more than 40,000, to offer incense in the temple and worship the gods, including the Jade Emperor, Cai Shen, god of wealth, and Men Shen, the door god," said Meng.
Priests will be on duty to greet visitors and maintain order. Scores of security guards have been employed to assist with emergency plans to control crowds. The police will take care of security and any traffic problems around the temple, Meng added.
On Wednesday, Chinese Buddhist and Taoist figures called for an end to what they perceive as "uncivilized" behavior when offering incense at religious sites, and environmentally friendly ways to burn incense during Spring Festival to reduce air pollution.
"Piety is not determined by the price and length of the incense which is only as a channel to deliver the message of the pilgrim," said Meng. "A pure mind and harmony with nature are the best ways to worship."