Next Tuesday, February 13, is a special day. No, it is not Chinese New Year yet, and no, it is not special because it is Valentine’s Day’s or Ash Wednesday’s eve. It is the 28th day of the last month of the lunar year. So, what is so special about this day?
年廿八,洗邋遢, nin ya baat, sai laat taat, is a well-known tradition in which the 28th is the time to clean away dirt. So this day is the day for thorough cleaning. Most people follow the practice and clean the whole apartment all day and into the night. But the day is about more than just cleaning. There is an “out with the old and in with the new” perspective behind this tradition. And our younger generation seems to have a few misunderstandings about this day.
Firstly, the day for “sai laat taat” (cleaning dirt) does not have to be the 28th day of the last month, before the new year. In ancient times, the 26th and 27th of the year’s final month were for worship in the form of thanksgiving to the gods for what has been given throughout the year. The 30th is the day for reunion when the whole family welcomes the new year together in celebration. So, technically, cleaning should be done before the 30th, which leaves only the 28th and 29th for the job. Some say that people started cleaning on the 28th so that if they are not finished by the end of the day, they still have the 29th to finish. But in modern society, not many people live in large houses that cannot be thoroughly cleaned in one day. Hence, while “nin ya baat” (the 28th) became the special day, any day before the 30th is good for the comprehensive cleaning.
The second misconception is that cleaning should be undertaken not only so that the house looks good for the new year, but supposedly so that old things can be cleared out in order for new things to come in the new year. This does not mean we should ditch our iPhones in hope for a new one in the new year. It is specifically to clean out things that are old and holding us back both physically and spiritually. This is so that we can welcome a new life in the new year. So it may be a good time to throw or give away old clothes for a new look, ditch old photos of the ex to find new love, or even to throw away a failed test paper to strive for good grades in the new year. Of course, the cleaning of the apartment too, involves getting rid of dirt and dust which are in the way for a brand new healthy life.
Finally, it is worth noting that the “out with the old, in with the new” is a philosophy that relates to more than physical possessions. It is also spiritual. In ancient times, the practice of the day of “sai laat taat” is also a day for getting rid of old bad habits, making a day for people to set resolutions to make changes. So resolving to quit smoking may be a way to celebrate that day – not that I’m doing that this year. It is thus also a day for meditating on the wrongs one has done and to decide to change such behavior.
After a thorough cleansing of body, mind and soul, one awaits in a supposedly fully cleaned apartment for the coming of the new year, and with it, new luck like “good health”, “prosperity”, “youth and beauty”, which are written on red papers that are stuck around the place. This is how we prepare for the Chinese New Year.