The only thing about not being in China for this year’s Spring Festival is that I don’t have to endure Chunyun. But I miss out on all the preparations and atmosphere leading up to Chinese New Year.
I would have totally forgotten if Jin wouldn’t have kindly reminded me by sending pictures of candy and nice food that today is the celebration of the Kitchen God Festival, in China known as Jizao Day 祭灶. Ji 祭 is a Chinese term for “sacrifice”, and zao 灶 for “Kitchen God” (commonly known as Zaowangye 灶王爷or Zaoshen 灶神), so it’s the day to worship the Kitchen God and his family. The celebration falls on the 23rd day of the 12th month of the Chinese lunar calendar and is also referred to as xiaonian Festival 小年, which literally means the “small new year”: A small celebration one week before the “big year” 大年 arrives on the 31st day of the 12th month.
Traditionally it is said that the Kitchen God is sent from Heaven to each family to take charge of family affairs. He has stayed with the family since the Spring Festival’s Eve of the last year and has observed the families behavior during the year. On Jizao Day he returns to Heaven to give the Jade Emperor a report about the good or evil deeds of the family. The Jade Emperor then decided of the good or bad fortune of the family for the next year. To prevent the Kitchen God from speaking bad words of the family in Heaven a custom is to offer him lots of sticky sweets which are supposed to stick together his mouth.
Here is a little video about the hundred-year old tradition of making melon-shaped sweet candy. This tradition has been handed down over generations.
In big cities this tradition seems to be no longer very popular, but in the countryside you can still find it. People in Niuji still celebrate Jizao. My parents-in-law see this as a very important day which marks the beginning of all New Year preparations. They would clean the house (especially the kitchen), do lots of Spring Festival shopping, and prepare a nice dinner. My mother-in-law would make her well-known baozi (a steamed stuffed bun) and jiaozi (dumplings). Of course firekrackers cannot be forgotten. There have to be Chinese firecrackers! Without, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival, right? Usually in Niuji they light a bunch of them in the morning, before lunch time, before dinner, and later in the evening to say goodbye to the Kitchen God when he leave to report to the Jade Emperor.
I found a really cute video on YouKu explaining the Jizao Festival in Chinese (with English subtitles). A must watch for everyone who studies Chinese.
Next year I will be eating the sticky candy again, and enjoying my mother-in-laws fine cooking skills.
Did you ever celebrate Jizao?
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