As from the 16th day of the 12th month, the Chinese community consider that they have already entered the period of
the incoming New Year. From that date onwards, everyone prepares to welcome the New Year by refraining from uttering any word that might give offence to others. Everyone also tries to nurse good feelings in his
heart and cultivate a sense of generosity and kindness to start the New Year under the best possible auspices. On the other hand businessmen close their accounts and everyone pays off his debts, since it is common
practice that none should owe any money on the day of the New Year. Of course, there are those who cannot settle their debts on time; nevertheless everyone prefers to start the New Year with a clean slate.
The preparations for the festival begin in earnest on the 24th day of the 12th month, the day on which the Kitchen God used to be honoured. Legend had it
that the Kitchen God returns to Heaven at the end of each year to report on the family. Each family therefore used to cover his mouth with malt candy to prevent him from making mischief and trouble for the family.
The Kitchen God was seen off to Heaven with his mouth sealed with candy to tell as little as possible. Should he manage to say anything, the sounds coming out of his candy-coated lips could only be sweet.
By this date the pace of work has already slowed down and efforts are centred on shopping, cleaning and decorating the house. Housewives make sure that all
children get new clothes. They take this opportunity, money-permitting, to get expensive dresses for themselves, after which they shop around for clothes to cover their husbands. Men and boys have their hair
cropped; women and girls queue up for fancy hairdo’s. Children begin setting off firecrackers two weeks before the Spring Festival. A holiday atmosphere gradually develops. As usual great importance is attached to
eating and drinking.
Before the return of the Kitchen God on New Year’s Eve, the house must be spotlessly clean. Every member of the family joins in housecleaning, repairing,
re-painting and decorating to give the house a new look. Houses receive a thorough cleaning. ‘Be careful when you sweep, my daughter’, the old women would caution, ‘the speck of dust you miss might fly into your
eyes and blind you’.18 It is reported that in the old days some places used to be swept inwards from the outside, lest the family’s wealth be swept out of the house! The old superstition that all this cleaning would
hasten the departure of the outgoing year along with all its misfortunes and bring good luck has now become simply a good habit.
Red, yellow-tasselled lanterns and red scrolls inscribed with blessings of happiness, success, longevity, joy and riches are pasted on the walls or hung on
public buildings. The blessings represent the ‘summum bonum’ of human existence. Some of them are rich in poetic fancy and worldly wisdom, such as: ‘May your life be lasting as the mountains and the hills, as the
greater and lesser heights, as the streams which flow in all directions, as constant as the moon, like the rising sun, as enduring as the Southern Mountain, and as luxuriant as the pine and the cypress’. Another
inscription may read as follows: ‘May the rice bowl be chock-full of pearls of rice’.