In the past, urban families burned their paper offerings in a variety of containers such as cooking oil tins. Now it is more common for urban worshippers to use the red enamel portable metal ovens, for sale at most retail paper shops. In the earlier days people were allowed to burn paper offerings within the public housing blocks. In the more recently built housing estates, burning in the stairwells and other public spaces is now prohibited as a fire hazard.
According to a Chinese myth, the New Year Monster does not like the color red or the sound of fireworks. In order to scare off the monster, people hang bright red decorations on their houses and light off fireworks during the week of celebration. For the last four days there has been a constant bang of fireworks as everyone plays their part in scaring away the monster. People traditionally decorate their houses with flowers, fruit, lanterns and scrolls displaying messages of good wishes and fortune. Red, orange and gold are popular decoration colours.
The use of spirit money in different rituals is deeply rooted in Asian culture. The bank notes can be printed in various styles, i.e. showing currencies like the Chinese Yuan, US Dollar, Thai Baht or Vietnamese Dong. The afterlife money is known for its large denomination, at times up to various billion dollars. The face of the note often sports a portrait of the Jade Emperor and the reverse an image of the ‘Bank of Hell’. It is meant for use by the more recently dead and other relatives and as an offering to the Judge of the Dead. The use of the English word ‘Hell’ in the ‘Bank of Hell’ and ‘Hell Money’ is probably an imperfect reference to the underworld and the court of the dead. Upon death, all souls are first sent to the underworld where their eternal fate is determined by the judge Yan Wang. The ghost money is intended, in part, as a gratuity of sorts to the judge in the hope that he will adjudicate their ancestors case favorably and lighten the length of their stay in the underworld.
More contemporary varieties of Joss paper include cheques, credit cards, smartphones, iPad as well as clothes, houses, cars, toiletries, pizza boxes and servants. The designs on items of cardboard vary from the very simple to very elaborate with custom artwork and names. In some Chinese mythology these objects are sent by living relatives to dead ancestors for a shorter stay or to escape punishment, or for the ancestors to use themselves in spending on lavish items in the afterlife.
In Asian societies, a red envelope or red packet is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions. During the Lunar New Year, mainly in Southern China, red envelopes are typically given by the married to the unmarried, most of whom are children. It is traditional to put brand new notes inside red envelopes and also to avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy.
A number of superstitions surround joss paper in Asian society. As a general rule, joss paper should never be given to a living person, because this is viewed as highly offensive. It is also kept concealed when it is stored at home, because it is supposed to bring down bad luck when left on display. Joss paper should never be used for anything other than its intended purpose, and while Westerners may be tempted to use it for decorating, they should be aware that Asian guests may be offended or feel uncomfortable when it is on display, as it is associated with death.
Incense paper differs slightly from joss paper, though serves the same purpose. Incense paper is a yellow coloured paper with a gold foil printed on it representing a gold tael or with a silver foil representing a silver tael. A tael is a weight measurement similar to the Thai bath, part of the Chinese system of weights and the currency. A further form is a single-coloured paper with one side having a rougher surface and the other side a smoother one. Such papers come in varying colours and are supposed to represent cloth for the ancestors.
February 10th – Chinese New Year 2013 – I visited the largest Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road in Hong Kong watching the ritual of burning Joss Paper to worship the ancestors. Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New year vary widely. It is traditional for every family to clean the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity.” Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes.
Joss Paper, also known as ghost money or spirit money , are sheets of paper & paper-crafts made into burnt offerings which are common in traditional Chinese religious practices including the veneration of the deceased on holidays and special occasions. Joss paper are also burned in traditional Chinese funerals, to ensure that the spirit of the deceased has lots of good things in the afterlife.