New Year Celebration - Spring Festival
The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, can trace its roots back to the ancient times, but due to the varying calendar systems adopted by different dynasties over the course of history, the date and the name of the holiday have changed and shifted on numerous occasions. For instance, Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, designated the 10th month of the Qin dynasty calendar in the middle of winter as the beginning of the year, while the Taichu calendar, or "grand beginning calendar," of Han dynasty established the start of the year to be the month of mengchun, or the "first month of spring". Meanwhile, the present day name for "Chinese New Year" in Chinese, chun jie, has also been referred to as "yuan dan," "zheng dan" and "xin yuan," among other terms, though they all signify "beginning of a new year". The early calendars were subsequently changed and improved upon, eventually evolving into the traditional Chinese calendar in use today, and the specific date of the Chinese New Year has also been confirmed as the first day on the first month of this calendar. After the Gregorian calendar became widely adopted in China, in order to differentiate between the New Year of the two calendars, and taking into consideration the fact that lichun, literally "start of spring," falls on or around the first day on the first month of the Chinese calendar, the "Chinese New Year" came to be called "chun jie," literally "Spring Festival". The New Year of the Gregorian calendar is known instead as "yuan dan".
Upon the arrival of the Spring Festival, the Chinese people would host all sorts of activities. Although China is a massive country, but preparatory work for the Spring Festival is more or less the same throughout the nation, such as purchase of festive items, cleaning, posting of antithetical couplets and reunion dinners, among other practices. Each custom embodies the people's joyous anticipation for the new year.
Before the Spring Festival, most activities revolve around preparations for the holiday, and the main folk customs include:
The 23rd day of La Yue (the 12th month of the lunar year): Honoring the kitchen god
According to fables, each family and each household has a kitchen god, who returns to heaven on the 23rd day of La Yue to present an annual report on the family. Thus, to honor the kitchen god, people would place sweet and sticky foods on the kitchen counter or stove, so that the deity's lips would stick together and report fewer bad news, which in turn translate into more auspices.
The 24th day of La Yue: Clean and sweep
Saochen, or to dust or to sweep, sounds the same as saochen, meaning "to rid the (bad luck of the) past". On the 24th day of La Yue, the Chinese would clean the house in preparation for the Spring Festival and to "sweep bad luck of the past out of the house," which gave rise to the saying "ershisi, sao fangzi" (on the 24th day of La Yue, sweep the house).
The 25th day of La Yue: Cover windows, grind tofu
Using paper to cover window panes has become a thing of the past, instead people today would clean windows. Tofu meanwhile sounds like "tou fu," a term related to luck and blessing, thus is considered a propitious food for the new year. On this day, people would begin to grind beans and make their own tofu for the upcoming Spring Festival.
The 26th day of La Yue: Slice meat
The term "ge nian rou," literally "slice new year meat," mostly refers to preparing meats for the Spring Festival, but also signifies a good day to start making specialty purchases for the holiday. Other than fish and meat, popular items include cigarette, liquor, fruit, gift and decoration.
The 27th day of La Yue: Bathe, visit marketplace
In traditional folk customs, it is necessary to bathe and do laundry on this day in order to rid the body of the bad luck of the past year and prepare to welcome a brand new year. Visiting marketplace entails not only the procurement of festive items, but is also an early chance to experience to vibrant holiday atmosphere.
The 28th day of La Yue: Prepare dough, put up festive decorations
Dough is prepared ahead of time in order to make steamed buns, noodles and other foods to be enjoyed during the span of the Spring Festival. "Nian hong" or literally "new year red" refers to festive and red decorations such as nianhua new year picture, antithetical couplets and paper-cutting. Antithetical couplets are usually hung on door frames or door panels, while new year picture, paper-cutting and signs of the fu character are hung or pasted based on personal preferences, but the common purpose is to generate a festive ambiance full of the auspicious red color.
The 29th day of La Yue: Honoring ancestors
All preparatory works for the Spring Festival should be completed by this day. In addition, it is customary for people to pay respect to ancestors on this day as a way to express appreciation and remembrance on this most important holiday.
Chuxi (Chinese New Year's Eve, the 30th day of La Yue): Gathering for reunion dinner
The reunion dinner on chuxi is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Spring Festival observances, and this gathering on the 30th day of La Yue is of utmost significance to the family-oriented culture of the Chinese people. Other than mandating the presence of all members of the family to fulfill the "reunion" requirement, there are many rules to be observed with regards to dishes and ingredients. For instance, fish is often included because its pronunciation yu is similar to the auspicious idiom "niannian you yu" meaning "surpluses every year," while niangao or Chinese New Year cake sounds like the saying "niannian gao" or "higher each year".
Chuxi: Give and get red envelope
After the reunion dinner, elders would retrieve red envelope (yasui qian), prepared ahead of time, and hand them out to younger members of the family. In folk culture, the red envelope is associated with the suppression of evil spirits and blessing of peace and fortune, thus representing a peaceful and fortunate year for the juniors that received red packets.
Chuxi to the 1st day of Zheng Yue (the first month of lunar year): Spring Festival’s eve
This custom has a long history and mostly refers to union of the entire family during chuxi and keeping the lights on for the whole night. Certain regions also stay up all night as a way to anticipate the fortune of the new year, thus there is a saying that roughly translates to "stay up all night on the 30th".
After spending a gleeful night with the family on chuxi, everyone embraces the new year. During the first month of the new lunar calendar year, there are a series of customs to be observed as well.
The 1st day of Zheng Yue: New Year greetings and gather fortune
To make new year greetings is an important activity for the first day of the new year. In addition, keep in mind that using the broom and throwing away trash are things to refrain from on this day, because to do so would be tossing away the new fortunes and blessings.
The 2nd day of Zheng Yue: Visit home of the wife's parents
On this day, married daughters have to return their parents’ homes with their husbands, and bring gifts and red envelopes for other children in the maternal family. Lunch must be ate at the home of the wife's parents, but leave and go to the home of the husband's parents before dinner.
The 3rd day of Zheng Yue: Do not leave house
Legend has it that this day is prone to generate arguments between people, thus usually no one goes out to make new year greetings or visit each other on this day. However, following advancement in society, this taboo has diminished considerably.
The 4th day of Zheng Yue: Honoring the god of wealth
The 4th day of Zheng Yue is an opportune time to worship the god of wealth. In the past, if an employee was not invited to pray to the wealth god, it was considered a "you are fired" message from the employer.
The 5th day of Zheng Yue: Po Wu (Breaking five)
On this day, people have to "rid the five 'poors'" (Poor knowledge, poor learning, poor literacy, poor life and poor relationship). In the past, it was customary to light up firecrackers in the morning, igniting the explosives as one walks toward and out the door. According to legend, this practice was meant to "scare all the bad luck out of the house".
The 6th day of Zheng Yue: Open for business
Merchants often choose to re-open their business on the sixth day of the week, to be accompanied by detonating a lot of firecrackers. Story has it that the most popular people on this day are 12 years-old boys because 12 equals to two sixes, symbolizing the idiom "liuliu dashun" ("everything goes smooth," because "six" and "smooth" are both pronounced liu).
The 7th day of Zheng Yue: Celebrate the day of man
The 7th day of the first lunar month is also known as the day of man, because in Chinese mythology humankind was born on this day. In Chengdu, a special activity associated with the “day of man” is to visit the Thatched Cottage of Du Fu, once home to the eponymous "Poet Saint". This is because he once wrote poem at the cottage on the “day of man” to express his longing for his friends.
The 15th day of Zheng Yue: Light lanterns for the Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival is the night of first full moon of the new year, and thus the "Yuanxiao Festival" is also known by the name "Shangyuan Festival". Historically speaking, a custom is to go lantern-viewing, therefore the day is also called Deng Jie or literally "Lantern Festival". The must-have signature food for the Lantern Festival is the yuanxiao, a type of sticky rice ball typically filled with ingredients like sugar, rose and ground black sesame, which is meant to convey the sense of sweetness (as in the taste) and reunion (as in the shape, because reunion in Chinese is called tuan yuan, with yuan also understood as "round").
Chinese New Year only comes to full completion after the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of Zheng Yue. Adults dedicate themselves into the works and goals for this new year, while children look forward to the next Spring Festival.