You have probably all heard about China’s biggest Festival – the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year. If you want an overview about it, you can read this article as a refresher. This year, the Spring Festival officially kicks off on February 1st. However, there is another, lesser known festival in this period – Xiao Nian (小年, which literally translates as “Little Year”). Another name for this day is “Kitchen God Festival”. This year, Chinese people celebrate it on January 25th. Traditionally, the Chinese used Little New Year as a preparation time for the Spring Festival (but in our times, they start to get ready much earlier).
There is a legend that the “God of the Kitchen”, 灶王爷 (Zàowángyé in pinyin), goes to the Jade Emperor and reports to him about people’s behavior (and then the Emperor will decide which luck you will get for the new year – bad or good). People usually prepare sweets for Zao Wang Ye, to make him say only good or “sweet” things about you. The God’s “favorite” sweet is made with maltose and sesame seeds, which was the traditional gift for him. Now you can find it everywhere and taste it yourself. And you should – it is extremely yummy!
Also, to welcome the “God of the Kitchen”, Chinese people clean their houses. This activity is called 扫尘 (săochén in Pinyin), and literally translates to “getting rid of the dust”. People believe that with the cleaning, they drive out all the bad luck from their homes.
Before Xiao Nian, you will find pictures of the God of the Kitchen everywhere – in the big shops or on the street – with which Chinese people decorate their homes. But they never say they “buy” these pictures, they call it “inviting” the God of the Kitchen to their apartments as he will bless all the family members. The other “activity” for Xiao Nian is to cut papers for window decorations – 剪窗花 (jiănchuānghuā in Pinyin). Those paper cuts may be in the shape of animals, plants or different symbols of the new year. They are very beautiful, but extremely difficult to make. Paper cutting is considered its own art form in China.
It is very important to prepare yourself for the new year, too, not only your houses. So, on the day of Little New Year, people take a bath and have their hair cut. There is a saying in Chinese folklore “whether you have enough money or not, just have your hair cut and tidy up to celebrate the New Year”. So, if you were thinking about getting a new hair style – January 25th is a good day for it.