Chinese New Year (农历新年 nónglì xīn nián) is the official name for Chinese New Year in the Republic of China (Taiwan), while Spring Festival (春节Chūn Jié) or the Lunar New Year, is the festival that celebrates the beginning of a Chinese New Year in P.R. China.

Customs

Traditionally Chinese believe that everyone’s birthday is celebrated on New Year’s Day. This period of time for all Chinese is the time of the year for families to get together and reunite again.

Each year, the Chinese calendar is represented by one of twelve animals from the Chinese Zodiac. Originally Chinese culture associates animals with people, therefore people carry and share the characteristics of the animal that represents the year of their birth. Usually, the Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Chinese people perform so many traditional dear activities for Chinese New Year with the aim to symbolize good luck, new life and new beginnings. Chinese New Year for all Chinese carry feeling of warmth and richness as a family celebration, when people often travel long distances to be under one roof. During Spring Festival Chinese families are opened the most, treating children politely and warmly, contrary to usual strict habitual formal behavior towards them.

It is mandatory for everyone to sweep and clean their houses before New Year’s Day in order to physically clean the place from the old year, prepare the house the best for all the company, and welcome gods in honor. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck.

Brooms and dustpans are put away on the first day so that the newly arrived good luck cannot be swept away. Businesses and individuals are expected to pay off all the debts, in order not to owe money, to settle old arguments, in order not to enter New Year in a fearsome state. It is a common practice to send gifts and rice to close business associates and extended family members. Most people buy new clothing and new shoes because they believe that bad luck from the previous year will follow them in old clothing and shoes.

The last lunar month before Chinese New Year is the time for paying back debts, and collect money. Everything must be paid by sunrise on New Year’s Day. In case If a person can not fulfill his duty and pay the creditors, it is not uncommon to leave town and spent New Year alone. If such a thing happens, that person is safe until the next collection time.

Hair cuts have to be done before the New Year, as cutting hair on New Year is considered bad luck due to the nature of the word “hair” (fa发 – meaning issue) and the word for “prosperity”(繁 fán).

This-period-of-time-for-all-Chinese-is-the-time-of-the-year-for-families-to-get-together-and

This period of time for all Chinese is the time of the year for families to get together and reunite again |  Image from Wall Street International.

Food

Food has very important meaning for the celebration and it often takes several days. During the festival, the Chinese prepare different dishes for their families and guests. All foods served or prepared have special meanings. Ancestors are remembered with offerings of food. Particularly foods are considered lucky and desirable because they are a kind of eatable pun (it sounds lucky).

A popular dish for North of China are dumplings (饺子jiaozi), a boiled meat pastry because it looks like the old Chinese silver money (元宝yuánbao), and glutinous rice balls (汤圆tangyuan) from southern China.

Fish is eaten to ensure long life and good fortune. People eat fish and say “Every year we have fish”, (年年有鱼niánnián yǒu yú ) which in Chinese sounds like “Have abundance year after year” (年年有余 niánnián yǒuyú).

Red dates bring prosperity, lotus and melon seeds will bring many children, and oranges symbolize wealth. The table is usually covered with a red cloth and red candles, and often there are twelve courses to represent the twelve animals of the zodiac. Tangerines (柑橘 gānjú) and apples (píngguǒ苹果) are considered lucky foods, because tangerine sounds like (吉jí), meaning lucky, and apple sounds the same as peace (和平 hépíng).

It is common to serve different trays of sweets and nuts for guests. The trays usually have 9 compartments, because the number nine (九jiǔ) sounds the same as 久(jiǔ) – meaning a long time. Chinese people enjoy special New Year’s cake with saying “Every year there is cake” (年糕 niángāo), which in Chinese sounds just the same as “Every year things are getting higher and better” (年高 niángāo).

It is always served special soup for New Year’s Day which has four special characteristics: red color (紅hong) which sounds like 早 (zao) meaning early, or soon. Peanut (花生huāshēng) (生means to give birth). Longan tree fruit (桂圆 guìyuán), which in Chinese sounds like 貴(guì -meaning expensive and precious), and flower stalk (建子jiànzi ) which sounds like 子(zi), meaning son.

When we complete all four sounds together, we decipher the meaning of the soup as: “soon to give birth to a dear son.”

The-color-red-represents-fire-and-for-Chinese-its-push-away-bad-fortune-and-scare-away-evil

The color red represents fire, and for Chinese its push away bad fortune and scare away evil spirits |  Image from Wall Street International.

Decorations

In many households home with ceremonial altars who are filled with last year decorations, such decorations will be burnt out and replaced with new decorations. Chinese burn a paper effigy of Kitchen God (灶君 Zao Jun), whom Chinese observe as judging God on their family affairs in order that Kitchen God can report good deeds of the particular family to the Jade Emperor. To ensure positive results families “bribe” gods with sweet foods and nuts.

Chinese culture generally incorporates symbolic elements of deeper meaning. The color red represents fire, and for the Chinese, its pushes away bad fortune and scares away evil spirits. Gold color represents wealth and good fortune, therefore families decorate flowers and paper in gold and red color paper cuttings, New Year door couplets, red lanterns, and New Year pictures, with the main symbol of the fu character (福 ‘happiness’).

This symbol is set upside down to hang because then has the meaning of many times arrival of luck, happiness and prosperity. Red is the emblem of joy, and this color also symbolizes virtue, truth and sincerity.

For Chinese, giving gifts is the way to express respect, love and positive intentions. Children always receive red envelopes (红包 hong bao)containing “lucky money” (利市lishi), symbolically to enter fresh and prosperous in New Year. It is common for all married people to give lucky money to their unmarried relatives.

Chinese people in day-to-day communications are dear and behave properly towards each other. Especially during the New Year, people add extra attention not to happen any misunderstanding in communication. People are very cautious and careful to say only words that sound lucky and chose foods that look or sound like something lucky.

Many Spring Festival lucky couplets (春联 chūnlián) are written on red paper and pasted on the doorposts such as “peace for you coming in, or going out” (出入平安 chūrùpíng’ān).

Traditionally children on the New Year’s Eve write and decorate peace of paper with message “the god of wealth arrives” (财神到 cáishén dào), and knock at neighborhood doors in order to receive – collect gifts from their neighbors.

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During Spring Festival Chinese families are opened the most |  Image from Wall Street International.

New Year’s Eve

The most important event of Chinese New Year’s Eve is the annual reunion dinner. Many Chinese travel thousands of kilometers in order to be present at reunion dinner. People take the opportunity to re-establish kind relations and with gratitude wish each other nice wishes and respect gods.

After the oldest in the family shot firecrackers to frighten evil spirits away, he burns incense and paper spirit money to give it to the spirits in order to ensure abundance. Most families will offer to the spirits a red tablet with inscribed genealogy father’s family line, candles and incense, asking to be blessed, and in order from oldest to youngest bow in front of the altar to thank their ancestors for giving them life.

Then the family takes the food off the altar and eats it for dinner. This is the biggest dinner of the holidays, called “reunion dinner” (年夜饭 niányèfàn).

Chinese families welcome the New Year plentifully, in order for next year to be abundant. The dinner consist of ten courses, where always is served chicken, as an offering, and fish. As much is prepared, leftover always stays, which is consider luck, and to be eaten the next day. Before midnight family performs “deep bow with the head all the way to the floor” (叩头kòutóu), a formal occasion when family members bow and thanks elder for giving them life.

At midnight, everyone goes outside and shoots off firecrackers. Bid farewell to the outgoing year till midnight is to “say goodbye to the old year” (辞岁císuì). In house family practice a ritual named “opening the door of fortune” (开财门 kāicáimén), meaning after they firecrackers in order to scare away evil spirits, they seal household doors, not to be reopened until the new morning (next year).

After midnight begins the period known as “stay up all night on New Year’s Eve” (守歲shǒusuì). It is believed that this is the time when the monster called Nien 年 (calendar year) might arrive again. So the family stayed together with the lights on until dawn to keep Nien out.