The Spring Festival is the mostimportant festival for the Chinese people and is when all family members gettogether, just like Christmas in the West. All people living away from home goback, becoming the busiest time for transportation systems of about half amonth from the Spring Festival. Airports, railway stations and long-distancebus stations are crowded with home returnees.
Strictly speaking, the Spring Festivalstarts every year in the early days of the 12th lunar month and will last tillthe mid 1st lunar month of the next year. Of them, the most important days areSpring Festival Eve and the first three days. The Chinese government nowstipulates people have seven days off for the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Many customs accompany the Spring Festival.Some are still followed today, but others have weakened.
On the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, many families make laba porridge, adelicious kind of porridge made with glutinous rice, millet, seeds of Job'stears, jujube berries, lotus seeds, beans, longan and gingko.
The 23rd day of the 12th lunar monthis called Preliminary Eve. At this time, people offer sacrifice to the kitchengod. Now however, most families make delicious food to enjoy themselves.
After the Preliminary Eve, peoplebegin preparing for the coming New Year. This is called "Seeing the NewYear in".
Store owners are busy then aseverybody goes out to purchase necessities for the New Year. Materials not onlyinclude edible oil, rice, flour, chicken, duck, fish and meat, but also fruit,candies and kinds of nuts. What's more, various decorations, new clothes andshoes for the children as well as gifts for the elderly, friends and relatives,are all on the list of purchasing.
Before the New Year comes, the peoplecompletely clean the indoors and outdoors of their homes as well as theirclothes, bedclothes and all their utensils.
Then people begin decorating theirclean rooms featuring an atmosphere of rejoicing and festivity. All the doorpanels will be pasted with Spring Festival couplets, highlighting Chinesecalligraphy with black characters on red paper. The content varies from houseowners' wishes for a bright future to good luck for the New Year. Also,pictures of the god of doors and wealth will be posted on front doors to wardoff evil spirits and welcome peace and abundance.
The Chinese character "fu"(meaning blessing or happiness) is a must. The character put on paper can bepasted normally or upside down, for in Chinese the "reversed fu" ishomophonic with "fu comes", both being pronounced as"fudaole." What's more, two big red lanterns can be raised on bothsides of the front door. Red paper-cuttings can be seen on window glass andbrightly colored New Year paintings with auspicious meanings may be put on thewall.
People attach great importance toSpring Festival Eve. At that time, all family members eat dinner together. Themeal is more luxurious than usual. Dishes such as chicken, fish and bean curdcannot be excluded, for in Chinese, their pronunciations, respectively"ji", "yu" and "doufu," mean auspiciousness,abundance and richness. After the dinner, the whole family will sit together,chatting and watching TV. In recent years, the Spring Festival party broadcaston China Central Television Station (CCTV) is essential entertainment for theChinese both at home and abroad. According to custom, each family will stay upto see the New Year in.
Waking up on New Year, everybodydresses up. First they extend greetings to their parents. Then each child willget money as a New Year gift, wrapped up in red paper. People in northernChinawill eatjiaozi, or dumplings, for breakfast, as they think "jiaozi" in soundmeans "bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new". Also,the shape of the dumpling is like gold ingot from ancientChina. Sopeople eat them and wish for money and treasure.
Southern Chinese eat niangao (New Yearcake made of glutinous rice flour) on this occasion, because as a homophone,niangao means "higher and higher, one year after another." The firstfive days after the Spring Festival are a good time for relatives, friends, andclassmates as well as colleagues to exchange greetings, gifts and chatleisurely.
Burning fireworks was once the mosttypical custom on the Spring Festival. People thought the spluttering soundcould help drive away evil spirits. However, such an activity was completely orpartially forbidden in big cities once the government took security, noise andpollution factors into consideration. As a replacement, some buy tapes withfirecracker sounds to listen to, some break little balloons to get the soundtoo, while others buy firecracker handicrafts to hang in the living room.
The lively atmosphere not only fillsevery household, but permeates to streets and lanes. A series of activitiessuch as lion dancing, dragon lantern dancing, lantern festivals and templefairs will be held for days. The Spring Festival then comes to an end when theLantern Festival is finished.
Chinahas 56 ethnic groups.Minorities celebrate their Spring Festival almost the same day as the Hanpeople, and they have different customs.
TheFestival of Lanterns takes place at the end of the Chinese New YearCelebration, on the fifteenth day of the first moon. Lanterns have been part ofChinese life for centuries so it's not surprising to see a festival oflanterns.
People usually hang lanterns in the gardens, outside the houses, and on theboats. These lanterns are signposts to guide guests and spirits of ancestors tothe Lunar celebration. After a sumptuous fifteen-day feast, these lanternslight the way for the spirits back to the world beyond.
Silk, paper and plastic lanterns vary in shape and size and are usuallymulti-colored. Some are in the shapes of butterflies, birds, flowers, andboats. Other are shaped like dragon, fruit and animal symbols of that year. Themost popular type of lantern is the "horse-racing" one, in whichfigures or animals rotate around the vertical axis of the lantern.
The special food for the Lantern Festival is Yuen Sin or Tong Yuen. These areround dumplings made with sticky rice flour. They can be filled and served as asweet snack or made plain and cooked in a soup with vegetables, meat and driedshrimp. The round shape of the dumpling is a symbol of wholeness, completenessand unity.
The Lantern Festival is an occasion for families to get together and foreveryone--young, old, rich and poor to have fun.