Spring Festival Tradition: Cleaning House春节习俗: 大扫除
Spring festival is coming. On spring festival, Chinese will do a lot of things. The old saying in Chinese for the 24th day of the last lunar month (i.e., today) is “二十四扫房日(èr shí sì sǎo fāng rì)”, “the 24th is cleaning day.” On this day, the whole family, male and female, the old and the young, devote themselves to a thorough cleaning. They may clean the yard, wipe down cooking utensils, wash clothes and blinds and throw away worn things.
The origin of the cleaning day lies in a story. In the story, San Shi Shen (三尸神 sān shī shén) is an evil spirit, a whistle-blower who spoke ill of human beings. He reported to the Jade Emperor that the humans planned to rebel against the Court of Heaven (天庭 tiān tíng). The Jade Emperor got very angry and ordered San Shi Shen to draw a mark on the doors of the families who committed the crime of offending the powerful emperor. In order to frame human beings, San Shi Shen marked almost every door. The kitchen god found out this and suggested that the families do a thorough cleaning after the small Spring Festival day. Therefore, when the Jade Emperor sent other gods to check for the marks on the eve of the lunar New Year, there was nothing on the doors. Everyone could enjoy a peaceful Spring Festival.
In the Chinese, “尘” (chén, dust) has the same pronunciation as “陈” (chén, staleness). As a result, to sweep dust (扫尘 sǎochén) also means to sweep away staleness (扫陈 sǎochén) in the house. Doing the cleaning not only makes rooms tidy, it also has the purpose of sweeping away misfortune and welcoming the coming year with a totally new outlook.
Nowadays, while many other traditions are fading away, the house cleaning custom maintains its vitality. On this day, people also would like to buy some new year pictures or paper-cuts to stick on the windows as Spring Festival decorations. People just hope that sweeping dust before spring festival will sweep away misfortune.