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Chinese New Year is also called Spring Festival because it marks and celebrates the coming of spring in addition to the New Year. It is the most important festival for the Chinese and falls on the first day of the first month of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, which is usually in February. The Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days and ends on the 15th day, which is called the Yuanxiao Festival or Lantern Festival.
A few days before the Chinese New Year, every family will thoroughly clean their house including washing clothes and curtains to make sure they pass the New Year in a clean environment. Housecleaning is believed to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck to a family. Inside the house, red paper cuttings designs, couplets, lanterns, and flowers adorn the doors and windows.
Red Chinese lanterns are particularly a symbol of blessing and happiness. They are commonly seen featured during almost every festive occasion. During the festival, they are hung on the front door, trees, temples, and at many public places. Red paper cuttings and folk paintings are often seen pasted on doors and windows, especially in Northern China. The images are often of auspicious themes such as peaches for longevity and the character of Fu for blessings and happiness. New Year couplets are often displayed on the two sides and upper side of the door. The characters are written with quality brush work where the lines express good wishes and auspiciousness. All the New Year decorations are in red or golden colors, which are the most auspicious colors in China.
The Spring Festival is the time for family reunions. Family members, no matter where they are, will try to get home, have a New Year dinner together, and stay at home with their families during the holidays. The New Year’s Eve dinner, where food is elaborately prepared and served, is considered the most important and opulent of the year.
There are certain foods that must be consumed during the New Year Festival such as fish, nian gao, and dumplings. For example, in Chinese, the pronunciation of fish is “yu,” which is the same as abundance. Eating fish at the New Year dinner serves to wish for an abundance of wealth, and it is believed that by holding more savings at the end of the year, they will earn more in the coming year. Nian gao, meaning glutinous new year cake, is another traditional Chinese food with a long history. It is made with glutinous rice, Chinese dates, lotus leaves, along with some other variant materials. In Chinese, nian means “year,” gao means “cake,” and put together they sound like “getting higher and higher year by the year.” Therefore, it is said that the higher you are, the more promotions you will get in your job, the more prosperous your business is, and the better your children will do in their studies. Therefore, this snack has a very auspicious meaning. The third major gastronomic feature of New Year dinner is dumplings, a traditional food with a history of more than 1800 years widely popular in China and especially in the north. The elastic and thin dough skin is wrapped to hold in fillings made of minced meat and vegetables. The dumplings are then boiled, steamed, fried, or baked. The joy that dumplings bring is evident when all the family members sit to prepare and eat them together.
As the most important traditional festival in China, the Chinese New Year is celebrated grandly and extensively across the country with various celebrations and activities arranged in all cities and towns, such as lion dances, dragon dances, and fireworks displays.
New Year’ Eve
Every household will prepare an opulent dinner and enjoy it with their family members. While eating, many will watch the Spring Festival Gala presented on CCTV (China Central Television) every year, which begins at 20:00 and lasts for hours into the beginning of the New Year.
After dinner, people will stay up late or even all night on New Year’s Eve, waiting for the first bell ringing of the New Year. It is believed that the ringing of the New Year bell marks the beginning of spring and can drive away bad luck and bring blessings. Accompanied with the bell ringing is the lively scene of fireworks displays.
First Day of the New Year
The first day of the New Year is observed by getting up early to extend only the best New Year wishes to family members, especially to seniors and children. Children and teenagers will dress up in new clothes and give New Year greetings to adults, and in return, the adults will give them hong bao (small red envelopes) with humble amounts of money as a New Year gift. Some families or companies will invite a lion dance in front of the door to evict the past year and welcome the new.
On the second day of the New Year, married women will visit her parents’ house with gifts, and on the third day, people begin to visit their other relatives and friends to express their New Year greetings. On the seventh day of the New Year, many businesses and government offices will begin to resume work once more. And on the first day of work, the company owners, bosses, and managers will hand out red envelopes filled with some money as a thank you gesture for the work that his or her employees accomplished in the past year.
Fifteenth Day of the New Year
The New Year celebrations end on the fifteenth day, which is called the Lantern Festival or Yuanxiao Festival. During the Lantern Festival, people get together to celebrate the new spring season by watching lanterns, the full moon, fireworks displays, and eating yuanxiao (a kind of sweet stuffed dumpling made of glutinous rice).
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