Chinese Culture: Chinese New Year Festival
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year Festival is the most important and widely celebrated festival on the lunar calendar. People congratulate each other for passing through another year.
It is a tradition in China for people to return to their homes and spend time with family with the first three days of the New Year being official public holidays.
People are excited in anticipation of "turning over a new leaf" as a new year begins.
On the first day of the first moon on the lunar calendar workers all over China like to return to their home towns to visit family and friends. Everyone makes a big effort to be with their family which usually involves a lot of travel for millions of people.
Just before Chinese New Year is the busiest time for travel in China. The family gathering for dinner at this time of year is the most important date on the calendar.
Preparations for the lunar New Year begin well in advance. Traditionally the 20th day of the 12th lunar month is the day for annual house cleaning where every corner is cleaned in preparation for the New Year. Long red scrolls with black characters are pasted on either side of the entrance door or gate.
These Spring couplets are short poems in traditional Chinese language with good wishes for the family in the coming year. Symbolic flowers and fruit are traditionally hung around the house, along with pictures of the traditional animal linked to the New Year.
Currently we are beginning the Year of the Rat (2008). Food supplies and gifts of fruit and tea were traditionally prepared in the last few days of the closing year and old debts are settled.
The kitchen god who looks after the hearth of the family is regarded as the inventor of fire needed for cooking and the censor of family morals. On the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month the kitchen god leaves the house to report back to heaven on the behavior of the family.
Prior to departure the family do everything possible to gain a favorable report, including a ritual farewell dinner of sweet food and honey to either bribe the kitchen god or to keep his mouth shut.
The last day of the old year traditionally involves families preparing food to enjoy for the next two days. All sharp knives are then stored away to prevent cutting of the good luck in the New Year.
Members of the family gather for the New Year's Eve meal and keep an empty seat for any absent members to be present in spirit, if not in body. After midnight younger members of the family bow and pay respect to their parents and elders.
On New Year's Day young members of the family are given hong bao (红包) or lai see (利是), lucky red envelopes containing gifts of money. Everyone wears new clothes and puts on their best behavior, making a special effort not to lie, swear or raise their voice. It is also considered bad luck to break anything on New Year's Day.
Traditionally the second day of the lunar New Year is a time for visiting friends and relatives. Gifts of fruit, flowers and New Year cakes are shared, while children receive hong bao.
The entire first week of the New Year period is a very festive time with a lot of eating and drinking taking place. Fire crackers which represent the driving away of evil spirits can be heard for the first two weeks of the New Year.
In fact, in places like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and other densely populated parts of China it is best not to count on a lot of sleep due to the fireworks being used. Beijing sounds like a city under siege! It is far better to set yourself up with a good supply of food and drinks and enjoy the spectacle if you haven't been invited to join a family celebration.
New Year celebrations end on the 15th day of the first lunar month with the lantern festival. People carry lanterns in traditional street parades while young men perform the colorful and spectacular dragon dance. Often up to 30 meters long the bobbing, weaving dragon makes an impressive sight and a fitting way to end the New Year festival.
With the passing of time traditions change or become lost. Visitors to Beijing and China will find traditions followed to varying degrees. Being the most important festival on the lunar calendar families continue to reunite and celebrate at this time of year. There is a lot of family celebration with eating and drinking. Fireworks play a very large role in the festival so the night sky is a riot of colour while in the daytime noisy fireworks sound across the city.
Traffic is at its best at this time of year because everyone is involved in family celebrations so any travel is quickly and easily completed. The festival is closed with the celebration of Lantern Festival where once again fireworks play a dominant role. Parks like Chaoyang Park often put on large lantern displays well worth visiting, but rug up against the cold night air.
Greetings you might like to use when meeting the locals could include:
Xin nian kuai le = Happy New Year
Gong xi fa cai = May the new year bring you wealth
Gung hay fat choy = Wishing good fortune and prosperity
See more useful Mandarin phrases
Chinese New Year could be considered the largest festival in the world. Not only Chinese people in China, Taiwan and Singapore take part but people in those countries with a strong Chinese cultural influence such as Mongolia, Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia and Laos.
There are also large Chinese New Year festivals in many cities around the world with substantial Chinese expat communities including London, New York, Los Angeles, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Yokohama, Sydney and Paris.
Chinese New Year Temple Fair