Last year I posted about the Chinese Kitchen God ( known as Zao Jun or Zao Shen ) but was unable to find a paper likeness of him to hang in our kitchen. Fortunately, my recent foray into New York’s Chinatown netted us a large, glittery, colorful paper image of the Kitchen God accompanied by an overflowing dish of delectable fruits and sweets.
( Note: since I posted this image I have been informed that this paper god is not the Kitchen God but the God of Fortune or Wealth. Oh, dear……so much for trusting what the sellers in the store sold me! )
Traditional Chinese families live by a complex religious belief system, and in order to fare well in this life, they enlist the help of various deities and guardian figures. The Kitchen God oversees every Chinese kitchen. His role is to protect the family in a variety of ways, and to insure that all in the family is fed and properly nourished.
To please the Kitchen God, a paper image of him resides near the back of every stove. A small altar is made for seasonal food offerings and to burn incense and candles. Each year, about one week before the start of the New Year celebrations, the image of the Kitchen God is taken down and burned. By doing this the spirit of the Kitchen God is released from the earth. Thus freed, the Kitchen God is freed to make his annual ascent to Heaven where he will report to the Jade Emperor on the conduct of the family during the past year.
Once in Heaven, the words of the Kitchen God influences the amount of prosperity and abundance that the Jade Emperor will bestow on each family in the New Year. In order to ensure that the Kitchen God speaks sweetly of the family, offerings of incense and bowls of ’sweet treats’ such as ripe melons, tangerines and oranges, honey, lotus cakes, sugar candies, and little bowls of rice wine are presented for his delight on the seventh day before the start of the New Year.
After the sweet treats have been appreciated, the image of the Kitchen God is burned, which propels his journey up into the Celestial realms. Gold and silver ‘ingots’ fashioned from paper are also offered, and little paper-mache sedan chairs are sometimes provided to offer a comfortable seat on the journey to Heaven.
To welcome the return of the Kitchen God to the family for the new year, a fresh paper image of him is hung where the old one had been. Each family hopes for the same thing from the Kitchen God – abundant food, good harvests and good health. In Heaven good deeds are reported, which in turn ensures safety, abundant food and good health on earth.