Chinese New Year’s day falls on the first day of the first lunar month. Throughout a history of thousands of years, the day has developed some permanent customs, which have been passed down from generation to generation. The customs of Chinese New Year are given heavily symbolic significance, and so have created some extremely distinctive Chinese cultural symbols to convey people’s feelings and an understanding of true contentment.
The Stove God in Chinese mythology is Zao Jun. People offer sacrifices on the altar. They usually prepare candy and water for the Stove God, and soya bean for his mount. After it has been melted, candy is spread on the mouth of the statue or image of the god to stop him from making critical remarks. This is because it is believed that the Stove God returns to heaven and reports to the Jade Emperor on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month. If people have committed evil deeds during the year, the Jade Emperor will punish them by shortening their lives. In short, this custom reflects ancient people’s respect for fire.
Chinese people buy lots of food, cooking ingredients, presents, clothes and even jewelry for the coming New Year. The presents are for visiting friends and relatives, the food and ingredients are for the reunion dinner and other meals during the entire holiday as food markets and supermarkets are closed for at least 2 days, and the new clothes are for the children to wear for the coming new year. So don’t be shocked if you find everyone’s shopping cart is full of a great many items in every supermarket.
After worshipping the Stove God, every household starts to clean their house, which is called “sweeping the dust”. Everyone cleans their bedding, curtains and kitchenware in order to get rid of bad luck, farewell the old year, and welcome the New Year.
Every household pastes a spring couplet of poetry on the thirtieth day of December in the lunar calendar or even earlier. Some people like to create spring couplets inscribed in their own calligraphy.
A spring couplet will often be written on red paper in black ink and then pasted on each side of a door frame. It portrays the promise of a great future over the next year in a unique Chinese literary form in which words harmonize together like music with an equal number of Chinese characters in each of the two lines.
Women in northern China are talented in making paper-cuttings of beautiful flowers, lovely animals and lucky symbols. These are for decorating doors and windows. It is a traditional art style as well as a symbol of luck and domestic bliss.
The reunion dinner is vital, and it goes from dusk until late into the night. Prepared in advance on New Year’s Eve, a large number of exquisite dishes are served. A hotpot and a fish are essential dishes, which signify liveliness and abundance. The whole family enjoys a sumptuous meal together around the table to experience warmth and intimacy, and they usually stay up at least until midnight.
China Central Television’s (CCTV) annual Spring Festival Gala is an important part of activities to celebrate the Chinese New Year Festival. It is a large variety program combining singing, dancing, comedy and folk art. Harmony and reunion are the main themes of the night. People watch the TV until midnight while huddled together around the table enjoying their reunion meal.
When the New Year’s bell is ringing, all of the cities are alive with firecrackers and fireworks. It is believed that the loud sounds and the fire could frighten away misfortune and the legendary “Monster Nian” (who in traditional stories turned up every year around New Year’s Eve), so that nowadays it has become part of the tradition. It displays a joyous mood and best wishes for a rosy future.
The dragon and lion dance is designed to scare away ghosts and beasts. This is a lively traditional dance that combines culture with martial arts. The lion symbolizes courage and power, and the dragon in Chinese legend is said to bring luck and get rid of calamities. The dance is performed to usher in a new year.
Paying a New Year call is a conventional Chinese custom for expressing great wishes, which usually starts with close family, and then spreads to visiting relatives and friends. Generally, young people give elders warm greetings, and in return usually receive lucky red envelopes.