The Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, is the most important traditional festival in China and is celebrated for fifteen days. There are many customs relating to food, decorations, greetings, and gifts. Here is a daily itinerary for the festival in 2015.
Chinese New Year for some people begins on Kitchen God's Day. In ancient China, governments offered sacrifices to the kitchen god and prayed for blessings on the 23rd of Layue (腊月the twelfth month of the lunar year), and common families and boat dwellers did so on 24th of Layue and 25th of Layue respectively.
\Worshipping the kitchen god has great influence all over China. In ancient times nearly every family had a kitchen god shrine in their kitchen. It is said that the kitchen god was authorized by the Jade Emperor to be in charge of the stove, and thus he is worshipped by Chinese as the patron god of the family.
In the legend, the kitchen god stays at a family from New Year's Eve, protecting and supervising the family till the 23rd of Layue, when he goes to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor the family's transgressions and good deeds. Therefore families make offerings to him in order to “bribe” him into reporting good things about the family on this day. On New Year's Eve, people welcome him home again.
Usually, the shrine at which the kitchen god is sacrificed to is in the middle of the northern or eastern side of the kitchen. Family households without such a shrine may attach a painted image of the kitchen god to the wall. Some paintings contain the kitchen god and a woman called Grandma Zaowang (the kitchen goddess 灶王奶奶).
There is a folk proverb saying "to clean the house on the 24th of the month". After worshipping the kitchen god, people become busy with preparing for the Spring Festival. The period from the 24th of Layue to New Year's Eve is called ‘Days for Welcoming the Spring Festival' or ‘Days for Sweeping the Dust'.
Sweeping the dust means a thorough cleaning of the house before Chinese New Year, which is a tradition for Chinese people. During those days, all family members take part in the house cleaning activities to create a clean environment to welcome in the New Year, such as cleaning rooms and the yard, washing all dishes or other kitchen ware, and washing bedding.
Actually sweeping the dust represents a wish to put away old things and bid farewell to the old year because in Chinese "dust” sounds the same as "陈” (chen, meaning ‘old and past')
Another folk proverb says "make tofu on the 25th”. Nowadays there are some places where people eat doufuzha (豆腐渣 bean curd residue) before New Year's Eve.
It is believed that, after hearing the kitchen god's report, the Jade Emperor comes down from heaven to see if the reports about family households are true. Therefore people eat doufuzha to show they live simply in order to avoid punishment for extravagance. Tofu residue is not good to eat and people ate it in the old times because of low productivity. Some Chinese preserve lots of tofu to eat.
Welcoming the Jade Emperor
It is commonly considered that the Jade Emperor will come to earth personally on the 25th of the twelfth month of the lunar year, after the kitchen god's report, to see for himself the good and evil of mortals, and decide the blessings and punishments of the next year. Consequently people make offerings to him to pray for blessings, which it is called "welcoming the Jade Emperor”. Also people's words and behavior on this day should be good to please the Jade Emperor.
Paper cutouts are pasted on windows. In the past people pasted paper cutouts on windows facing south and north before the Spring Festival. Now paper cutouts are still popular with northerners, but people in the south only paste paper cutouts on wedding days.
The subjects and themes of paper cutouts are rich, and most of them are characteristic of rural life, because the majority of buyers are peasants. Therefore paper cutouts about farming, weaving, fishing, tending sheep, feeding pigs, or raising chickens are common. Paper cutouts sometimes depict myths and legends and Chinese operas. Also flowers, birds, and Chinese Zodiac creatures are popular paper cutout designs. With their caricaturistic and exaggerated patterns, paper cutouts express the hopes of people looking forward to a better life, and give a merry and prosperous atmosphere to the Festival.
Offering Sacrifices to Ancestors
A popular custom in ancient times, its forms vary widely from one area to another: from sweeping tombs in the wild to worshipping ancestors in ancestral halls or temples. However, most people offer sacrifices to their ancestors in the main hall of the house where an ancestor altar is displayed, and then family members kneel and bow in front of the wall-mounted shrine, from the oldest to the youngest.
Offering sacrifices to ancestors, on the one hand shows people’s respect, piety, and missing their ancestors on such a special festival; while on the other hand it is believed profoundly that ancestors will protect their own descendants and make them become prosperous. These traditional customs have been handed down from age to age to show gratefulness and to pray for blessings.
Pasting a door god image on the door is an important custom among Chinese people during Spring Festival. In the beginning door gods were made of peach wood carved into the figure of a man, hanging by the door. Later people pasted printed images on doors.
People paste door gods on doors as a prayer for blessings, longevity, health, and peace. Two door gods on double doors are thought to keep evil spirits from entering. The door gods symbolize righteousness and power in China, therefore Chinese door gods are always scowling, holding various weapons, and ready to fight with evil spirits.
On the 29th or 30th of Layue people buy printed spring couplets in the market to decorate their houses. Some people write the couplets themselves. Previously spring couplets were written on red peach wood boards because red represents auspiciousness and it is thought to keep evil away. Nowadays spring couplets are written or printed on red paper.
New Year Paintings
New year paintings are put up to decorate hoses, carrying best wishes and creating a happy and prosperous atmosphere at the Spring Festival.
The subjects of new year paintings are often flowers and birds, plump boys (with Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy — and fertility), golden roosters, oxen, ripe fruit and treasure, or other legends and historical stories, showing desires for bountiful harvests and a happy life. In China the Four Homelands of the New Year Painting are New-Year-Painting Village in Mianzhu in Sichuan Province, Taohuawu in Suzhou, Yangliuqing in Tianjin , and Weifang in Shandong
Days before the New Year festival, department stores, official buildings, office buildings, and streets are decorated with red lanterns and red couplets. The year 2014 is the year of the horse, so horse images will appear.
On the days before the New Year, Chinese families give their houses a thorough cleaning. Traditionally, this is done on New Year's Eve. Dust and dirt are associated with "old" in Chinese culture, so cleaning the house and sweeping the dust represent bidding farewell to the past and ushering in the New Year.
Private houses are usually decorated on New Year's Eve. People paste red couplets and pictures of door gods on doors (to guard their doors from evil spirits), and they hang red lanterns in their houses. The reason why the color red is frequently used for New Year decorations is that it is associated with good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture.
In North China, it is customary to paste paper-cuts in the shapes of animals and plants on windows, while in South China, e.g. Guangzhou and Hong Kong, certain flowers and plants are used. Peonies and kumquat plants (a kind of small citrus fruit) are popular.
In Hong Kong, people go to their favorite Chinese New Year flower market to get their plants, and if you are there, you'll be surprised at the size and beauty of the fresh bouquets that suddenly appear.
The New Year's Eve Feast is a "must do" dinner with all the family members getting together. Many people try very hard to make this family event. This imperative contributes to a real travel rush throughout the country.
People from north and south China have different sayings about the food they eat on this special day. In northern China, a traditional dish for the feast is jiaozi (dumplings). They are shaped like a crescent or half moon. Southern Chinese eat niangao (a cake made of glutinous rice flour) on this special day because niangao sounds like the words for the phrase "higher and higher every year".
Read more on Chinese New Year Food.
The annual CCTV New Year Gala begins at 8 pm and lasts for 4 hours, to the beginning of the New Year. China's best singers, musical groups, and acrobats appear on the show each year.
Shousui means to stay up late or all night on New Year's Eve. After the New Year's Eve Feast families sit together and typically watch the CCTV New Year Gala, waiting for the New Year to arrive. The cracking of more and more fireworks all around turns into a roar at midnight in most of the country. This crescendo of noise will keep sleepy people up.
The first ringing bell is a symbol of the Chinese New Year. Chinese people like to go to large squares or temples where there are huge bells ready on New Year's Eve. As the midnight approaches, the bells start bonging and they count down and celebrate together.
People believe that the ringing of a large bell can drive all the bad luck away and bring good fortune to them. In recent years, some people have begun to go to mountain temples to wait for the first ringing of a bell.
Hanshan Temple in Suzhou in East China's Jiangsu Province is famous for its first ringing of the bell to herald Chinese New Year. The custom is even beginning to be adopted by the ex-pat community there.
Lighting firecrackers used to be one of the most important customs in the Chinese New Year celebration. But because of the danger and the noise disturbance they cause, the government has banned this practice in many major cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Fireworks and rockets that explode in the air are still allowed or sent aloft in most of the country, and packets of firecrackers make a noise like a machine gun.
People in the smaller cities, small towns and rural areas still practice this tradition, and it isn't generally considered dangerous. Just as the clock strikes 12, beginning the new year on the Chinese lunar calendar, cities and towns are lit up with the bang and sparkle of fireworks on the ground and the sparkling lights bursting in the air. The sound can be deafening. At 12 midnight, the boom from government sponsored firework displays help to make it astoundingly loud in many places.
Families stay up for this joyful moment. Kids with firecrackers in one hand and a lighter in another, cheerfully celebrate by throwing the small explosives one by one on the street whilst plugging their ears.
Many people can watch the public firework displays and the rockets set off by the people exploding for about forty minutes from their windows. Crowds at the major fireworks display venues love to watch the rockets explode brilliantly closeup above them.
See New Year events in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
"Lucky money" is the money given to kids from their parents and grandparents, and from bosses to their employees, as a New Year gift. The money is believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits, hence the name "lucky money". Employees are often required to visit their job site for a short visit with their boss at a prearranged time for a meeting and to receive their packet.
Parents and grandparents put the money in small, red envelopes (Hong Bao) and give them to their kids in the first day of the New Year; red, because Chinese people think it is a lucky color. This activity is often the kids' favorite.
On the first day of the New Year, Chinese wear new clothes, say "Gongxi" (congratulations), and wish each other good luck and happiness in the New Year. It is also customary for the younger generations to visit the elders, and wish them health and longevity. See Chinese New Year greetings.
In recent years, a new way to do New Year greetings has appeared in large cities: Busy people who don't have time to visit their friends will opt to send a New Year Card or a text message to their friends or relatives.
Lion dances and dragon dances might be seen too on New Year's Day. These dances used to be very popular in China, but during the 20th century the government tried to stop the custom. The dances are reappearing in many places though, and they remain popular in Hong Kong and Macau.
One of the customary religious practices for many Chinese is making sacrifices to or paying respects to the ancestors in various ways. Many people will go to a temple or perform a ritual at a shrine. People's practices and beliefs concerning this worship vary a lot all over the country.
Chinese New Year is the second biggest day for ancestor worship in China after the Qingming Festival.
Traditionally, a married daughter visits the house of her parents on the second day of Chinese New Year.
From the third day to the seventh day, people go out to visit relatives and friends. On the third day, some people also traditionally go to visit the tombs of their clan or relatives. Some people think being outside on the third day is inauspicious because evil spirits roam around.
The eight day is the end of the official New Year public holidays, and people go back to work. All government agencies and businesses will stop reopen on this day.
The fifteenth day of the New Year is Yuanxiao (the Lantern Festival). It is the traditional end of the Spring Festival celebrations. People send aloft glowing lanterns into the sky while others let lanterns go on the sea, on rivers, or set them adrift in lakes.