The Little New Year ( ‘小年--Xiaonian’ in Chinese, also called the Minor New Year’s Day), usually falls a week before the lunar New Year. In 2020 it falls on Jan. 17. The Chinese Little New Year is not a fixed festival as it varies with local customs. Folk activities during the Little New Year mainly include sweeping dust and worshipping Kitchen God. So, the day is also called the Festival of the Kitchen God (the deity who oversees the moral character of each household). Chinese Little New Year means that Chinese people begin to prepare special purchases for the Spring Festival and are ready to spend a clean Spring Festival. Also, it suggests a new year with a new image and expresses the good wishes of Chinese people to ring out the Old Year and ring in the New Year.
Origin of the Festival
Date of Chinese Little New Year
In folk China, people have the tradition of "the third for official, the fourth for folk and the fifth for marine", which means the official celebrate the Chinese Little New Year on 23rd of the 12th lunar month, the people celebrate on 24th while the coastal or lakeside residents celebrate on 25th.
North had been the political center of China before the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), so people still celebrate the Chinese Little New Year on 23rd of the 12th lunar month; South was far away from the political center, so people here still celebrate on 24th; coastal or lakeside residents preserve the boatman tradition of celebrating on 25th.
In Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai, both 24th of the 12th lunar month and the night before New Year's Eve are regarded as the Minor Chinese New Year. In Nanjing, the Lantern Festival falling on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month is treated as the Minor Chinese New Year. In Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan located in Southwest China and some Hui Nationality regions in North China, New Year's Eve is the Chinese Little New Year.
Worshipping Kitchen God
In Northern China: in addition to candy and pastry offered, people also have to replace the old image of Kitchen God with a new one.
In southern China: burning paper offerings is the main activity. Also, people have to offer the dishes to the Kitchen God before enjoying with family.
Making Chinese Paper Cuts for Window Decoration
What to eat for Chinese Little New Year?
Eating dumplings: it seems that dumplings are essential to every festival in North China. Eating dumplings at the dinner of Chinese Little New Year is for the meaning of seeing off the Kitchen God. While offering up a sacrifice, people need to put the dumplings on the table neatly.
In southern China, cooking Nian Gao is the tradition of many places. Nian Gao is made of glutinous rice and other ingredients. As it shares a similar pronunciation with ‘年年高’in Chinese. Nian Nian Gao in Chinese also known as ''Year High Cake'', having the symbolic meaning of ''life and work getting higher or better year after year''.
Northeast Candy, a.k.a. Kitchen God Candy or Large Candy, is only available before and after the Chinese Little New Year. It is a kind of candy made from malt and millet by boiling, for the purpose of worshipping the Kitchen God. The milk white candy is flat and in strip shape, about three inches long and one inch wide. The new candy is crisp, tasty and viscous, with a special favor loved by everyone in Northeast China. Nowadays, the candy has become a daily food for the people rather than an offering to the Kitchen God.
In addition to Kitchen God Candy, Baked Wheat Cake is also a special festival food for the Minor Chinese New Year. Every year on this day, the stalls dealing with Baked Wheat Cake in many cities are quite popular.
In North China, every family is busy about making steamed bread, reunion cake and peach-shaped birthday cake on the Minor Chinese New Year, for the meaning of family reunion and surplus year after year. It is quite complicated to make this kind of food, as you have to leaven, soften, knead and re-soften the dough before making a variety of shapes; then, the dough has to be softened again before steaming. The finished food is named ''floury flower'' which is tasty yet time-consuming.