Spring Festival is the most important holiday for Chinese people. Excitement and happiness are palpable this time of the year, and they reach the peak on lunar new year's eve.
Through the 15-day period, which starts with the first day of the lunar new year and ends on the 15th day (known as Lantern Festival), is relatively long, it is the busiest time of the year for Chinese people. The arrangements they have to make for family reunions, buying necessities and preparing food keeps them busy throughout the holiday. Many of them travel back home and meet friends over dinner and drinks. The celebrations include decorating the house and setting off fireworks.
But we are talking about a tradition that seems to be fading.
Spring Festival, as it is celebrated today, has undergone many changes, thanks to the country's economic development and globalization.
Yet no Spring Festival is complete without food. People could not get good food whenever they desired in earlier times, something that does not apply to society today. More often than not, people faced the risk of famine. The best time for people to celebrate was when food was available in plenty, and that was possible in spring, or the beginning of the lunar new year. That was the main reason why Spring Festival acquired such great importance among Chinese people.
But three decades of economic growth has ensured that people in China, except for those who are still poor, can enjoy a good meal whenever they want. Such has been the change in people's fortune that some have to be treated for obesity and other health problems associated with excessive eating.
In the past, celebrations were limited to events like song-and-dance duets in North China, dragon/lion dances in South China and fireworks, which required the joint efforts of the entire community. But economic development and urbanization seems to have weakened the social links among people. Many, especially those living in cities, are not interested in celebrating the festival with people they hardly know.
Many customs associated with Spring Festival have changed, too. In the past, people used to visit relatives and friends with gifts and lots of good wishes. Today, many people, especially the youth, use their cell phones or the Internet to send their good wishes and even "gifts" to their relatives and friends. Some may say this is a sign that people have become less caring about their near and dear ones, but we should see this development as a time- and energy-saving exercise granted by the information age.
In recent times, many people have started praying for a career promotion or more money instead of invoking God or the Buddha for a healthy and long life and the welfare of their family. But the number of such people is decreasing now, which shows that people are becoming more reasonable.
To clean houses on the New Year Eve is a very old custom dating back to thousands of years ago. The dust is traditionally associated with “old” so cleaning their houses and sweeping the dust mean to bid farewell to the “old” and usher in the “new”. Days before the New Year, Chinese families clean their houses, sweeping the floor, washing daily things, cleaning the spider webs and dredging the ditches. People do all these things happily in the hope of a good coming year.
One of the house decorations is to post couplets on doors. On the Spring Festival couplets, good wishes are expressed. New Year couplets are usually posted in pairs as even numbers are associated with good luck and auspiciousness in Chinese culture.
People in north China are used to posting paper-cut on their windows. When sticking the window decoration paper-cuts, people paste on the door large red Chinese character “fu”A red "fu"means good luck and fortune, so it is customary to post "fu"on doors or walls on auspicious occasions such as wedding, festivals.
Waiting for the First Bell Ringing of Chinese New Year
The first bell ringing is the symbol of Chinese New Year. Chinese people like to go to a large squares where there are huge bells are set up on New Year’s Eve. As the New Year approaches they count down and celebrate together. The people believe that the ringing of huge bell can drive all the bad luck away and bring the fortune to them. In recent years, some people have begun going to mountain temples to wait for the first ringing. Hanshan Temple in Suzhou, is very famous temple for its first ringing of the bell to herald Chinese New Year. Many foreigners now go to Hanshan Temple to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Staying up late ("Shousui")
Shousui means to stay up late or all night on New Year's Eve. After the great dinner, families sit together and chat happily to wait for the New Year’s arrival.
New Year Feast
Spring Festival is a time for family reunion. The New Year's Feast is "a must" banquet with all the family members getting together. The food eaten on the New Year Eve banquet varies according to regions. In south China, It is customary to eat "niangao" (New Year cake made of glutinous rice flour) because as a homophone, niangao means "higher and higher every year". In the north, a traditional dish for the feast is "Jiaozi" or dumplings shaped like a crescent moon.
Lighting Firecrackers used to be one of the most important customs in the Spring Festival celebration. However, concerning the danger and the negative noises that lighting firecrackers may bring, the government has banned this practice in many major cities. But people in small towns and rural areas still hold to this traditional celebration. Right as the clock strikes 12 o'clock midnight of New Year's Eve, cities and towns are lit up with the glitter from fireworks, and the sound can be deafening. Families stay up for this joyful moment and kids with firecrackers in one hand and a lighter in another cheerfully light their happiness in this especial occasion, even though they plug their ears.
New Year Greetings(Bai Nian)
On the first day of the New Year or shortly thereafter, everybody wears new clothes and greets relatives and friends with bows and Gongxi (congratulations), wishing each other good luck, happiness during the new year. In Chinese villages, some villagers may have hundreds of relatives so they have to spend more than two weeks visiting their relatives.
On the first day of the new year, it’s customary for the younger generations to visit the elders, wishing them healthy and longevity.
Because visiting relatives and friends takes a lot of time, now, some busy people will send New Year cards to express their good wishes rather than pay a visit personally.
It is the money given to kids from their parents and grandparents as New Year gift. The money is believed to bring good luck, ward off monsters; hence the name "lucky money". Parents and grandparents first put money in small, especially-made red envelopes and give the red envelopes to their kids after the New Year's Feast or when they come to visit them on the New Year. They choose to put the money in red envelopes because Chinese people think red is a lucky color. They want to give their children both lucky money and lucky color.