According to tradition, preparations for the New Year celebration
are already well underway. My Chinese friends tell me that they have spent the
better part of this week cleaning their houses from roof to rafters, as the
New Year’s duck gently marinates in the refrigerator.
Of course, my on-going interest in Chinese culture and language is motivated
in part by the realities of our own family. Also, my current mystery
is set in China, so I am immersing myself in any detail that will lend truth to my fiction.
Because it is my policy to delve into the geography of whatever
region my characters happen to find themselves in, I’ve been slowly chipping
away at learning to speak Mandarin, to the embarrassment of my children, who
die a thousand deaths every time I fail to impress our Chinese friends and
neighbours with my poorly spoken Mandarin.
Just the same, it’s been fun drawing the intricate Chinese characters and
practicing the tones that give each word its unique meaning. I will
probably never be fluent in speaking Mandarin, but every new character
that I learn brings me closer to breathing the same air as my protagonist,
and that is important to me.
Today I’ve been thinking about this ancient Chinese tradition of ‘New Year’s
housecleaning’. I know that most practitioners take the custom very
seriously, believing that in order to receive any good luck in the coming
year, all bad luck must first be ‘swept out’ of the family home.
My Scottish ancestors had a similar tradition of thorough spring cleaning, as did
many Europeans. My parents took the process very seriously, right up till they passed away recently. I can remember my mother warning us to stay out of the house when she was using ammonia to strip the old wax off the floors.
Can it be that the ancients knew something that we have forgotten? I wonder
whether the act of cleaning one’s house was intended to represent a deeper, more
spiritual removal of dirt from the chi. Of course, that could be a copout on my part,
being the kind of slip-shod housekeeper that I am. But I can’t help feeling
that the real goal here must be something greater than achieving a shiny
For my own part, as I scrub and vacuum and spray and wash our house tomorrow
I am going to keep this thought in mind: For each germ that I annihilate, I
am going to eliminate one stubborn grudge from my soul. So if I stick to my
plan, then by February 18th I should be ready to enter the New Year with a
clean heart, free from any residual pettiness or anger that I may have accumulated during the previous year.
Best to all, Donna