Five days before Chinese New Year, Asian Families are cleaning kitchens, and burning pictures of the Kitchen God, Zao Jun.
In Chinese folk religion and Chinese mythology, the Kitchen God, named Zao Jun (Chinese: 灶君; Pinyin: Zào Jūn; literally “stove master”, Cantonese: Joe3 Gwan4) or Zao Shen (Chinese: 灶神; Pinyin: Zào Shén; literally “stove god” or “stove spirit”), is the most important of a plethora of Chinese domestic gods that protect the hearth and family with the addition of being celebrated in Vietnamese culture as well.
It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year he returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Jun’s yearly report. Keep in mind this is folkfore, and legend.
Here is one of the many stories about Zao Jun.
Zao Jun has been worshiped as a god in China since at least the 2nd century BC There are several stories as to how he became a god, the most popular being that he was once a mortal man named Zhang Dan and was married to a virtuous woman.
However Zhang Dan fell in love with a young girl and left his wife for her. From that day on he was plagued with bad luck to punish him for his betrayal. He was struck blind, the young girl left him and he had to resort to begging.
One day, while begging for alms, he happened across the house of his former wife. Being blind, he did not recognize her. Despite his shoddy treatment of her, she took pity on him, and invited him in.
She cooked him a fabulous meal and tended to him lovingly, he then related his story to her. He began to cry, and as he cried his eyesight was miraculously restored. Recognizing his benefactress as his former wife, he was overcome with shame and threw himself into the kitchen hearth not realizing that it was lit
His wife tried to save him but the fire consumed him and all that was left of him was a leg (to this day in China a fire poker is sometimes called Zhang Dan’s Leg).
His wife lovingly created a shrine to him above the fireplace where he died, this began Zao Jun’s association with the stove in Chinese homes.
Traditionally every Chinese household would have a paper effigy of Zao Jun in the kitchen . Offerings of food and incense are made to Zao Jun on his birthday which is said to be the third day of the eighth lunar month ( 5 days before New Years, which is Saturday.) when he returns to Heaven to give his New Year’s report. Also on this day the lips of Zao Jun’s paper effigy may be smeared with honey to sweeten his words to Yu Huang (or keep his lips stuck together).
After this the effigy will be burnt to be replaced by a new one on New Year’s day and firecrackers are lit to speed him on his way to heaven. If the household has a statue or a nameplate of Zao Jun it will be taken down and cleaned on this day for the new year.
Print the above image and burn it in a safe place ( Fireplace ).