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Gifts For The Gods: Food For The Chinese New Year

Jan 16, 2009 (All Things Considered)

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For those suffering from post-holiday blues, the Chinese New Year — or the Year of the Ox — is fast approaching on Jan. 26.

For many, that means it's time to start pulling out all sorts of Chinese traditions.

One of the great traditions is to clean out the house a week before the New Year to "sweep out the old in order to usher in the new," according to Grace Young, the author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.

Another is to make offerings to the kitchen god as a sort of bribe.

"The kitchen god is a domestic god that resides behind the stove and he watches over everything in your home," Young tells NPR's Melissa Block. "And the Chinese believe that the heart of the family resides in the kitchen. ... The family always puts a food offering in front of this little altar that they have right by the stove."

The idea is that when the kitchen god goes up to see the jade emperor, his report will be favorable and you'll have a prosperous new year, Young says.

Young says that her grandmother used to put out a whole chicken because it represents "a proper beginning and end to the year and a wholeness of life on earth." Her grandmother would also put out roast pork — because it signifies prosperity — a stir-fried lettuce dish and rice wine.

"So the feeling is you that you feed the kitchen god to make him happy, and that the wine will make him so drunk that all of your bad deeds, he won't be able remember or that he'll slur his words so that the jade emperor won't be able to understand what he's saying about you," Young says.

If you want a good report, "you could put a teaspoon of wine, but I don't think anyone is that perfect these days," Young says.

Young says families eat the chicken and the lettuce and pork.

"Nothing is wasted in a Chinese household," Young says.

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