The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it is sometimes called, is a 15-day festival in traditional custom. It can be generally divided into three periods, the days preceding the festival, the festival days and the days after the Spring Festival Day. There are different customs related to each period:
Cleaning and Purchasing
Cleaning before the New Year is a tradition in Chinese culture. The grounds, the walls, and every corner of the house need to be cleaned. In Chinese, “Dust” is a homophone for the word “old” (Chen), thus cleaning means to drive the bad luck or the old things away from the house to get ready for a new start.
After cleaning people will go shopping and buy new clothes for the festival. Chinese people believe that since this is a year anew they should buy a lot of new things. Purchasing new items symbolizes welcoming new things and getting ready for a new start.
Chinese couplets are typically pasted on doorways as a part of the festival’s celebration. The custom of pasting couplets can be traced back over one thousand years to the Later Shu State (934 – 965). The original form of modern couplets was called “Taofu”, a piece of peach wood protecting against evil without any writing on. In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), the antithetical couplets began to be written on the wood to express people’s good wishes as well as being a decoration. Later, the modern form of couplets appeared replacing peach wood with the red paper. The couplets include antithetical on two sides and a horizontal scroll hanging on the top.
|Chinese Paper-Cut – Character
‘Fu’, Meaning Happiness
Pasting the “Fu”
The Chinese character “Fu”, meaning good fortune or happiness, is used to express people’s good wishes and yearning for the future, so people usually paste it gates or some furniture in the house during the Chinese New Year. Pasting the “Fu” upside down, meaning the arrival of happiness or good fortune, is a widely accepted and popular custom among Chinese people. Other auspicious characters and patterns are added to express good wishes.
In the ancient time, this character and the couplets were written by hand, but now, people can buy printed ones in shopping malls or supermarkets. Some shops even present these printed works to customers who buy something in their shops.
Auspicious words or pictures are cut on red paper and pasted on windows to express good wishes for the future during the happy event.
New Year Pictures
They originated in Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) with simple patterns to drive away evil. Now they are a kind of decoration for the festival. New meanings and patterns such as conventions, women and babies have been added to the old pictures. Different places in China have different styles of pictures.
The Cards are prepared before the festival. In the past, some people sent cards to their friends, parents, teachers and other relatives during the happy event especially when they were not going to be with them on Spring Festival’s Eve. Words of blessing are written on the cards similar to Christmas cards. Now, with the advance of technology, the form of cards has changed, the custom of sending cards continues.
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The Gate Gods
In Taoism and folk-custom, the Gods of the Gate, one of the most popular gods, guard houses. Ancient people pasted their pictures on the door to drive away evil and keep their houses safe. Now their pictures are pasted on the doors during the Spring Festival.
Chinese knots are prepared to decorate houses during the festival. They were first used to string jade pendants on clothes as decorations and these knots were widely used in different places such as flute, Xiao (a vertical bamboo flute), curtain and so on as decorations. Now these knots are used as gifts containing the blessing for other people or decorations.
Festival’s Eve & Day
Having reunion dinners, eating dumplings, staying up all night, setting off firecrackers and other activities are the most popular customs of the Spring Festival. Besides, visiting relatives, gifts are also exchanged during the first days of the festival.
The most important food during Chinese New Year is the dumpling (jiaozi). Made with flour and stuffed with different fillings, dumplings are usually eaten on the Eve. Because their shape resembles the Chinese Yuanbao (a kind of money used in ancient times), dumplings are eaten to bring wealth in the coming year. People wrap coins, candy, peanuts, or chestnuts in some of the dumplings to express different blessing for example a coin for wealth, candy for sweet life, peanuts for health and longevity, and chestnuts for vigor. It is also a custom in many parts of China to eat dumplings on Jan. 1st and Jan. 15th of lunar calendar.
Learn to Make Dumplings
The custom of staying up all night dates back to the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-289). In ancient times, after the reunion dinner, families members chatted around the stove while waiting for the arrival of the new year. Now they watch CCTV New Year’s Gala.
CCTV New Year’s Gala:
This is a comprehensive art and performance event on the festival’s eve. Since it was first broadcasted in 1983, it has become a beloved performance for most Chinese people. Performances include basic elements such as skits, cross talk (Xiangsheng), acrobatics, songs and dances. Recently more and more foreign artists are appearing which provides Chinese people a window into western cultures. The performance always ends with the song “Cannot Forget Tonight”.
Firecrackers and Fireworks:
Firecrackers are always set off at midnight. In some places, people also set off firecrackers on the morning of the first day. The use of firecrackers can be traced to 2,000 years ago, when people threw bamboo into the fire to drive away a monster called “Nian”. After gunpowder was invented, firecrackers replaced the bamboo. Because fires can be easily started by the firecrackers, many places ban firecrackers except in designated areas. Fireworks are also set off in the evening of Lantern Festival.
Lucky Money (Red Envelope):
Lucky money is prepared for children by adults and the elderly and given after the reunion dinner. In folk culture, the children will live safe and sound for the whole year if they get lucky money. This custom still remains and the amount of money is increasing. Children use their money to buy books or other school supplies. Some families also save the money for future use or use it to help cultivate in their children the habit of saving.
Paying New Year’s Visits
A special way for people to express good wishes to each other and an important activity during the festival is to visit their friends and relatives. In ancient times younger people had to salute the elderly by kowtowing; today they salute them by offering good wishes. In response, the older generation gives them money wrapped in red paper.
Generally speaking, people drop in at relatives and friends’ houses, greeting one another with ‘Happy New Year’. This custom has not changed. In some rural places, where families have many relatives, this activity lasts for several days. It is impolite to visit someone without a gift. Therefore, special local products, fruits, desserts, wines and other small gifts should be taken when you visit others. Although, busy people choose to send greetings by telephone or e-mail, the old tradition of paying visits is still popular.
Temple fairs are another tradition of the festival, especially in Beijing. Although they originally were a form of worship connected with temples, now they are more like carnivals and are sometimes held in parks. Traditional cultural performances such as playing diabolo, Chinese traditional magic, puppet shows and so on can be seen. Besides, people can buy all kinds of daily using things at very low prices.
During and after the festival, Beijing has temple fairs almost every day in different places such as Wangfujing, Altar of the Earth and Dragon Pool Park.