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Spring Festival Sacrificing Ceremony

Author: Zoe Mao

I was born in a small village which is located in the middle of Zhejiang Province in Southeastern China. It is inhabited by around 100 households. Most of the families share the same surname Mao as mine. Obviously we are descendants of the same ancestors. My father once told me that the Mao clan moved from Tianjin, one of the only four municipalities directly under the Central Government. He didn’t know the details as for when and why our ancestors moved here. Maybe it’s because of war or starvation. 
In the village, we have an ancestral hall where portraits of our two ancestors are hanged on the wall. This hall once played a very significant role in the village life. But now it is only used for some special events. The most important event of the year is the sacrificing ceremony in Spring Festival. 
Each year, when the Spring Festival is drawing near, one of the Mao families will take their turn to take charge of the event. They will tidy the hall and decorate it with handmade lanterns and calligraphy scrolls bearing auspicious meanings. And a huge and long table will be set up in the middle of the hall. 
The name of the ancestral hall is Ningruitang
 The portraits of the ancestors
On the day of Chu Xi, lunar December 30, the last day of the year in Chinese lunar calendar, the family will travel around the village and they will keep on beating a copper gong while they walk along the small alleys, passing by every household. They will do this twice that day. The first time is to tell the villagers it is time to cook duck, chicken, pig head, rice and whatever they want to offer as sacrifices. And the last time is to tell everyone, especially the Mao families, it is time for the children to put on new clothes and for the parents to finish cooking and get the other stuff such as red candles, incense sticks, yellow paper and firecrackers ready for the sacrificing ceremony. The yellow paper is very thin and tender and in Chinese culture, it stands for money or rather gold and it is used as a sacrifice to the gods and the deceased. The Chinese believe the deceased still need money in the netherworld. So they burn yellow paper and believe that their ancestors will receive gold therefore. 
Duck and pork ribs were cooked in the wok. 
The gong beater traveled around the village to remind people of the time. 
Shortly after that, the Mao families will gather together in the hall, bringing their own sacrifices. They will put them on the big table in the middle of hall neatly row by row. And all the candles are light up and placed in front of the sacrifices. When all the Mao families are here, the ceremony begins. Firstly, all the yellow paper is burned in a big iron wok. Then all the firecrackers are set off. We hear big bangs everywhere and the entire courtyard is choked with smoke. Then all the incense sticks are ignited. And everyone gets two or three sticks. With the incense sticks held up high vertically, we stand row by row facing the courtyard.
 All the sacrifices were placed on the table.
“Bow!” the one in charge shouts. We bend over and pray to the Heaven for good fortune, health and a prosperous future, etc. After that, we turn around to face the portraits of our ancestors. Again, we bow and pray for protection and blessings from our ancestors. After that, every family takes their sacrifices back home. And I don’t know what is going on in other Mao families after that. But in my family, we will start the sacrificing ceremony again at home. We offer the sacrifice again to the Heaven and the God of Kitchen. Finally all the meat, rice, candles are placed in the kitchen. It is the end of the whole ceremony and my parents will then be busy preparing for the family reunion dinner.
 All the firecrackers, yellow paper and incense sticks were put together
The yellow paper were burned.


We bowed and prayed to the Heaven.
We turned back and prayed to our ancestors.
The non-Mao families in the village hold similar ceremonies at home, usually at the same time with us. This tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. I don’t know when it began but I am sure it will continue for many years. And I love the tradition and I have never missed the event since I began to remember things. And when I was a child, the happiest moment of the year was when the second round of gong beating was heard, my parents told my younger brother and me to go upstairs and put on the new clothes specially prepared for the Spring Festival. In my hometown, it is a tradition for people, no matter adults or children, to prepare new clothes for the Spring Festival.
 Sacrificing ceremony at home
Sacrifices to the God of Kitchen
Anyone who is interested in the ceremony is warmly welcome to come to our village to experience it. I can be your local guide and host. The village is about 2.5 hours drive away from Hangzhou and about 1 hour drive away from Yiwu. 


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