What people eat on that day is just “laba rice porridge”.
On the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month every year, native Pekingese would cook a pot of “laba rice porridge”, which includes coarse cereals and dried fruit like beans, rice, red dates, raisins, longans and so on, meaning “a bumper grain harvest”.
In the old days, the sticky and savory “laba rice porridge” was used for enshrining “Kitchen God”. At that time, food, which is the first necessity, is of vital importance; therefore, the status of Kitchen God is very high.
Nowadays, native Pekingese will also cook a pot of porridge for neighbors to have a taste, and then the family has a get together to enjoy the porridge with happiness.
After drinking the laba rice porridge that can send word to the year, the native Pekingese step into the New Year. They buy food, new clothes and New Year gifts, and clean the room to welcome the Chinese New Year's Eve.
An attentive colleague also points out that “sending word” has another meaning: From the day of Laba Festival, “Money lenders can collect money and debtors must pay back the money.” In this way, “sending word” gives the money lenders a reason to ask for payment of debt and reminds debtors that they cannot repudiate a debt. Or will they use this debt to cook a leftover of the next year? Those who are debated must pay back sooner or later. It’s better for them to pay back before the New Year, so they can feel relaxed and celebrate the New Year happily.
On the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, native Pekingese will also pickle garlic with vinegar, which is the sauce food when eating dumplings on the Lunar New Year's Day. The garlic is called “Laba garlic”.
Time pased on from year to year, the traditions of cooking “laba rice porridge” and prickling “laba garlic” are still very popular in Beijing.
As an “outsider” who born in Beijing, I have the honor to taste the “laba rice porridge” given by a native Pekingese. The porridge which is sticky and sweet, emits the first touch of aroma derived from the Spring Festival Celebration of Old Beijing.
On the 23th day of the twelfth lunar month, native Pekingese raise the curtain of celebrating the New Year, which is known as “Small Year” (the festival that falls on the 23rd or 24th of the 12th month of the lunar year).
On the day of “Small Year”, there is a saying which is called “Sticking Sugared Melons on the 23th day”. The so-called “sugared melon” is sweet made of maltose.
On the 23th day of the twelfth lunar month, every family of native Pekingese will offer sacrifices to the kitchen god. If the kitchen god feels happy and is honey-mouthed in front of the Jade Emperor, the families can have blessing in the whole year and will be peaceful and well-being. Another version is that the sugared melons are used for sticking the mouth of the kitchen God, and then he will not say anything when seeing the Jade Emperor. In case that he talks much but errs much.
Sticking Sugared Melons on the 23th day; Doing the spring cleaning on the 24th day; Pasting windows on the 25th day; Simmering meat on the 26th day; Killing cocks on the 27th day; Leavening dough on the 28th day; Steaming buns on the 29th day; Staying up on the 30th day; Walking outside on the Lunar New Year’s Day.”
“Spring cleaning day” is sweep-up day. However, it’s not as easy as the sweep-up of our school days, which is just sweeping the floor and cleaning the windows. Native Pekinese will sweep thoroughly the corners that are not being swept in ordinary days, and then they’ll change the New Year pictures and repaint the walls.
It is difficult to see “Pasting windows” in the downtown of Beijing nowadays. So my colleague from Planning Department suggests changing it into “cleaning windows. The windows in the Courtyard houses of Beijing are all made of wood. When the New Year comes, these windows should be pasted new window papers. Windows will be paste with the Chinese Character “Fu”, which means good fortune, and paper-cut and hung with hand-working pendent like “eternal knot”, which symbols safety and best wishes.
Recalling the bright red scene in every family, it’s not difficult to imagine the boisterous atmosphere when celebrating New Year. The most important step on that day is to pasting Spring Couplets and Pictures on the doors with characters written in black (golden) on red paper. When the Spring couplets appear, the atmosphere of New Year become more strong.
“Simmering meat”, “killing cocks”, “leavening dough” and “steaming buns” are scheduled day by day, which is a savory link in the countdown of the New Year. During the days when food is light, the smell of meat is a wonderful attraction. This kind of pursuing for warm within mind and body is the lively memory of my childhood. Whether vegetarians and young people who want to lose weight can experience this feeling?
According to the native Pekingese' rule, the New Year's Eve dinner should be prepared in advance, because there is a taboo that knife should not be used in the transition period of the year, or it will be ominous and elicits disaster.
Except knife, scissor and needles should not be used either, in order to avoid quarrel and hordeolum. There are so many taboos, so it's better to prepare food before. And after the fifth day of the lunar year, knife can be used to cut meat and vegetables.
The Chinese New Year’s Eve is the peak of the year. All the gathering and preparation is for the “carnival” of this day. But in the old Beijing, which is reserve and calm, this “carnival” is simple and plain.
On this day, native Pekingese will throw the dregs of a decoction outside the door, and burn up the prescription that is currently used. It is said that in this way, one can “get rid of every illness”.
In addition, the family should prepare banquet and wear new clothes. Neighbors and relatives would visit each other, and the younger generation would kowtow the elders, which is called “bidding farewell to the outgoing year”. In especial, newly-married need to bid farewell in the house of mother-in-law, or they are not pious and filial.
After staying up till the dawn, they still cannot sleep. Washing their faces and check themselves out, they need to make a bow to then elders and pay a New Year call, sending best wishes with kowtow.
The first day of the lunar year is the day that children like best. Making bow and kowtow can earn them red packets with gift money. When I was a child, one child of my neighbors would kowtow when he saw people. He was really economically minded, even though he broke his head sometime. Later, he really became an economist.
New Year starts from this day. When children open their red packets, they also open the booming New Year.