Chinese New Year or Spring Festival – A Brief Introduction to Chinese Culture
Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year or Spring Festival (春节) is one of the most important traditional Chinese festival. It traditionally begins on the first day of the first lunar month (正月; pinyin: zhēng yuè) in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; the 15th day is called Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade. Chinese New Year’s Eve is known as Chúxī（除夕）, or Guo-Nian (过年). Chu (除) means removal. Xi (夕) means night. Guo (过) means passing. Nian (年) means year.
Events on the Day of Chinese New Year Eve
House cleaning should be ready on or before the day Chinese New Year eve. Early morning, someone has to go to flower-market to buy pink peach flowers for worship events and new year day decoration.
The first event on the Chinese New Year Eve is to worship Jade Emperor with flower and fruit without animal sacrifices (top ranking gods are vegetarian) in the early morning to thank the gracious protection from the god of heaven in the past year and pray for safe, smooth and luck for the coming year.
Chinese calligraphers write the New Year’s poetry on the red color paper and people paste them on the top and both of sides of main-entry door. They said this custom comes from the story of man-eater Nian animal, which was afraid of red and fireworks.
In the afternoon around 2 or 3 P.M., Chinese need to say good-bye to the current year by telling the gods and ancestors at family Buddhist altar with Nian-Gao (sweet rice cake), Fa-Gao (steamed rice cake), animal sacrifices (pork, duck, chicken or fish), fruit, drink, candy with big red candles. Long time ago, one thing important and special is to put a hundred of coins tied with red thread to hope for good money luck and wish for longevity to 100 year old.
After saying goodbye to gods and ancestors, women begin to prepare the reunion dinner. There are many dishes on the dinner table. Every dish has an auspicious meaning behind it. It’s connected to longevity, reunion, perfection, good luck, health, diligence, satisfaction or promotion based on the homophone of the dish’s name. Family members are supposed to have some from every dish. However, Chinese don’t touch fish on the table. This is because the homophone of fish is remainder, which means they have surplus or extra saving in the end of the year. In the other hand, they need leftover for Chinese New Year Day – nobody cooks at home.
After dinner, that’s a exciting time for the children. They are waiting for New Year’s Hong Bao , which is a Red Envelope containing the brand-new money. Adult or parents will hand out the Red Envelopes to children, unmarried immediate family and their parents before going to the bed.
The last event is the vigil to wait for new year coming. One main reason is this can extend parents lifespan. The sound of Sleepiness in Chinese is similar to Trouble. Sleepless means no trouble for the coming year. How can Chinese keep them awake? It’s simple. They watch TV shows for Chinese New Year special. The other way is playing Mah-Jong or anything that requires memorization, calculation and strategy.
Many people will gather outside the temple after reunion dinner, everyone wants to be the first person of the year to be blessed by the God. There is the first incense stick race at many temples every year. One the first second of Rat hour, 11 P.M., as soon as the temple’s main gate is opened, people will dash into the temple to insert the incense stick into the incense container. The winner will win a big Red-Envelope from the temple. But the most important thing is the winner will be very lucky in the coming year.
After receiving the Red Envelopes, young people like to go outside for the vigil of the year. Before midnight, they gather with friends or relatives around park, riverside or tall buildings to wait for the Chinese New Year fireworks.
Chinese New Year Day – The First Lunar Day of The First Lunar Month
Chinese New Year fireworks will open the event for the Chinese New Year festival. The sound of firecrackers tells people the new year has arrived. People offer the New Year’s greetings while they are watching TV shows, enjoying the fireworks, asking luck at temple or gambling. The most popular greeting is Gong Xi Fa Cai-恭喜发财, which means “congratulations and make a fortune.”
Some Chinese families change the new clothes right after midnight or the Rat hour in the Chinese New Year Eve. Then they choose the lucky hour from Chinese Farmer’s Calendar to worship spirits and ancestors with candles, fruit, rice cake, tea, long noodle and candies. The purpose of this worship to tell spirits and ancestors the new year arrives. In the end of the ceremony, they will open the door, select a lucky money direction to explode the firecrackers, which means to get rid of old bad stuff and welcome the new coming. Some Chinese family give the Red Envelope to children at this time, then the children go to bed.
On the Chinese New Year day, Chinese eat the breakfast without meat from the New Year Eve leftover. At noon, they have to worship the Spirit of The House with simple animal sacrifices, vegetables and rice. At the evening, they worship family ancestors again with full dinner food.
In the morning, all the children are supposed to wear new clothes, pants, shoes, hat or jacket. Every family should prepare many different kinds of sweet candies in a tray for people visiting their houses.
Chinese New Year day is close to the early spring, (it is a beginning of blossom season). The popular flowers for Chinese New Year are orchid, narcissuses, peach flower, chrysanthemum, kumquat, cherry blossoms, camellia and so on. So some people like to visit the flower garden or attend flower expo to enjoy the sight of flowers or bring some flower pots home.