The Spring Festival is a traditional Chinese festival and also the most important one of the whole year. Through the evolvement of thousands of years, a series of customs are spreading far and wide.
扫尘 Sweeping the Dust
“Dust” is homophonic with “chen”（尘）in Chinese, which means old and past. In this way, “sweeping the dust” before the Spring Festival means a thorough cleaning of houses to sweep away bad luck in the past year. This custom shows a good wish of putting away old things to welcome a new life. In a word, just before the Spring Festival comes, every household will give a thorough cleaning to bid farewell to the old year and usher in the new.
贴春联 Pasting Spring Couplets
“The Spring Couplet”, also called “couplet” and “a pair of antithetical phrases”, is a special form of literature in China. The Spring Couplet is composed of two antithetical sentences on both sides of the door and a horizontal scroll bearing an inscription, usually an auspicious phrase, above the gate. The sentence pasting on the right side of the door is called the first line of the couplet and the one on the left the second line. On the eve of the Spring Festival, every household will paste on doors a spring couplet written on red paper to give a happy and prosperous atmosphere of the Festival. In the past, the Chinese usually wrote their own spring couplet with a brush or asked others to do for them, while nowadays, it is common for people to buy the printed spring couplet in the market.
贴窗花和“福”字 Pasting Paper-cuts and “Up-sided Fu”
Paper-cuts, usually with auspicious patterns, give a happy and prosperous atmosphere of the Festival and express the good wishes of Chinese people looking forward to a good life. In addition to pasting paper-cuts on windows, it is common for Chinese to paste the character “fu（福）”, big and small, on walls, doors and doorposts around the houses. “Fu（福）” shows people’s yearning toward a good life. Some people even invert the character “fu（福）” to signify that blessing has arrived because “inverted” is a homonym for “arrive” in Chinese. Now many kinds of paper-cuts and “fu（福）” can be seen in the market before the Festival.
守岁 Staying Up Late on New Year's Eve
The tradition of staying up late to see New Year in originated from an interesting folk tale. In ancient China there lived a monster named Year, who was very ferocious. Year always went out from its burrow on New Year’s Eve to devour people. Therefore, on every New Year’s Eve, every household would have supper together. After dinner, no one dared go to sleep and all the family members would sit together, chatting and emboldening each other. Gradually the habit of staying up late on New Year’s Eve is formed. Thus in China, “celebrating the Spring Festival” is also called “passing over the year (guo nian)”. However, now there are less and less people in cities who will stay up late to see New Year in.
贴年画 Pasting New Year Prints
The custom of pasting New Year Prints originated from the tradition of placing Door Gods on the external doors of houses. With the creation of board carvings, New Year paintings cover a wide range of subjects. The most famous ones are Door Gods, Surplus Year after Year, Three Gods of Blessing, Salary and Longevity, An Abundant Harvest of Crops, Thriving Domestic Animals and Celebrating Spring. Four producing areas of New Year Print are Tɑohuɑwu of Suzhou, Yɑngliuqing of Tianjin, Wuqiɑng of Hebei and Weifang of Shangdong. Now the tradition of pasting New Year paintings is still kept in rural China, while it is seldom followed in cities.
吃饺子 Having Jiaozi
On New Year’s Eve, the whole family will sit together to make jiaozi and celebrate the Spring Festival. The shape of jiaozi is like gold ingot from ancient China. So people eat them and wish for money and treasure. The tradition of having jiaozi is very important during the Spring Festival. You cannot have a complete Spring Festival without having jiaozi. (See page 82 for more information about “jiaozi”)
看春节联欢晚会 The CCTV New Year's Gala
The New Year’s Gala is a variety show held by China Central Television (CCTV) since 1983. For every year since then at the turn of the Lunar New Year, the program begins at 8:00PM and lasts five or six hours. It brings laughter to billions of people, creates many popular words and produces lots of TV phenomena meriting attention. For over twenty years, its value has gone far beyond a variety show. It is essential entertainment for the Chinese both at home and abroad. Many Chinese would like to watch the gala while having the dinner on New Year’s Eve.
放鞭炮 Setting off Firecrackers
The firecracker is a unique product in China. In ancient China, the sound of burning bamboo tubes was used to scare away wild animals and evil spirits. With the invention of the gunpowder, “firecracker” is also called “鞭炮biānpào” (“炮” in Chinese means gun) and used to foster a joyful atmosphere. The first thing every Chinese household does is to set off firecrackers and fireworks, which are meant to bid farewell to the old year and usher in the new. In the past few years, such an activity was completely or partially forbidden in big cities including Beijing due to fire and personal casualty caused by burning firecrackers. However, some Chinese thought that a Spring Festival without firecrackers was not lively enough and they burned firecrackers by stealth. So in recent years, the ban was canceled again. This shows that burning firecrackers is a very important activity during the Spring Festival.
拜年和压岁钱 New Year's Visit and Gift Money
On the first day of the Chinese lunar year, everybody puts on their best clothes and pays ceremonial calls on their relatives and friends, wishing them all the luck in the coming year. Juniors will greet seniors, wishing them health and longevity, while seniors will give juniors some gift money as a wish for their safety in the coming year. When friends meet, they will wish each other happiness and prosperity with a big smile. With the development of the new technology, there is a change on the way of giving New Years greetings. In recent year, it is common to send New Years greetings by such modern means of communication as telephones, emails and text messages.
逛庙会 Temple Fair
Temple fair, usually held outside temples, is a kind of folk custom in China. During the Spring Festival, temple fair is one of the most important activities, in which there are such performances as acrobatics and Wushu, numerous kinds of local snacks and many kinds of things for everyday life. In recent years, the temple fair has become a place for people to appreciate the traditional art and experience the traditional life.
Traditional Festival Greetings:
恭贺新禧 | Happy New Year
吉祥如意 | Everything Goes Well
恭喜发财 | Wishing You Prosperity
年年有余 | Surplus Year after Year
岁岁平安 | Peace All Year Round
新春大吉 | Good Luck in the New Year
In the past two years, it has become a vogue for relatives and friends to send short messages to greet each other during the Spring Festival. With best wishes, the warm greetings of text messages give a happy and joyful atmosphere of the Festival.
Festival Greetings via Text Message
I will give you a coat as a present. The front is safety, the back happiness, the collar auspiciousness, the sleeves satisfaction, the buttons enjoyment and the pockets warmness. Wear every day. Wish you a happy New Year.
As the New Year comes, I will only give you five “do’s” as a present. Do be merry! Do be healthy! Do be safe! Do be satisfied! Do remember me!