I still remember my first Christmas in Canada: a great present packed with surprises. The biggest surprise for me is how people have been looking forward for Christmas: just look at all those lovely advent calendars! Well, for Chinese people, the biggest event in Winter is perhaps none other than the Chinese New Year. Similar to how we count down Christmas in Canada, Chinese people also have their own ways of counting down the new year.
In China parents and grandparents teach children a nursery rhyme which contains a countdown of the Chinese New Year, which describes what kind of chores to be done on certain days. Although these nursery rhymes vary from different regions, most of the contents remain the same—all the nursery rhymes indicate three common things.
The first thing is that the Chinese New Year starts really early: all of them show that the start of the preparation is on December the 23rd in the lunar calendar, which is the Kitchen God’s day. Some rhymes even mention the La Ba Festival as the beginning of the preparation period.
The second thing is that the day following the Kitchen God’s day is the time for families to clean the household. This is because Chinese people believe that cleaning can sweep away bad luck from the previous year out of their houses. In some nursery rhymes housecleaning chores also include writing and decorating Chinese couplets— two poetic lines expressing blessings of the New Year.
The third thing is that apart from chores involving housecleaning, other chores include largely food preparation for the Chinese New Year feast. In fact, the food mentioned in these rhymes — tofu, chicken, and fish—have a deep meaning regarding to the Chinese New Year. In Chinese culture, people believe that the Jade Emperor will investigate families before the new year, and eating tofu is a sign of living a humble and modest life. As for chicken and fish, they are homophones of Chinese blessings “lucky” and “rich”.
Right now, I still can remember the nursery rhyme that was taught by my mother. Like Christmas carols, it reminds me of how my parents prepare special food for the Chinese New Year (in my case a special Chinese sausage). Even though I am not in China now, I still try to follow the rhyme to cook up something special and store it for my Chinese New Year dinner!
By – Nancy