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Chinese Spring Festival 2015: Tradition, History, Day-By-Day Guide

Spring Festival, widely known as Chinese New Year in the West, is the most important traditional festival, and most important celebration for families in China. It is an official public holiday, during which most Chinese have 8 days off work.

The Date Is Based on the Lunar Calendar

12 animal signs Chinese zodiac signs

The date of the festival is based on the Chinese lunar calendar. It falls on the first day of the first lunar month (always somewhere in the period January 21 to February 20), and ends with Lantern Festival, on the 15th day of lunar month one. In 2015 the Spring Festival starts on Wednesday, February 18 (Chinese New Year's Eve).

The Chinese lunar calendar usually has 354 days, so the date will be 11 or 12 days earlier each year, until it would be before January 21. At which point a 30-day month is added to the Chinese calendar year and the date is 18 or 19 days later.

2015 — a Goat Year

The Chinese lunar calendar is associated with the Chinese zodiac, which has 12 animal signs: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, Rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal represents a year in a 12-year cycle, beginning on Chinese New Year's Day. 2015 is a year of the goat. 

Although widely known as Chinese New Year, the Chinese call it Spring Festival (春节 Chūnjié /chwnn-jyeah/) officially and formally, and ‘Passing a Year' (过年 Guònián /gwor-nyen/) orally and traditionally.

What Spring Festival Is

A Public Holiday in China

In 2015 most Chinese will be off work from Wednesday, February 18 (New Year's Eve) to Tuesday, February 24 (the 6th day of Chinese New Year).

Officially only the first three days of Chinese New Year (February 19–21, 2015) are statutory holiday. Chinese New Year's Eve and three more days are always added to give seven consecutive days of holiday. These four extra days are taken from weekends: the weekend closest to the statutory holiday is included, while the Saturday before (February 14, 2015) and the Sunday after (March 1, 2015) are worked.

A Festival for Families

Chinese New Year Eve's dinner Chinese New Year's Reunion Dinner

Chinese New Year is a time for families to be together. Wherever they are, people come home to celebrate the festival with their families.

The New Year's Eve dinner is called Reunion Dinner, and is believed to be the most important meal of the year. Big families – families of several generations sit around round tables and enjoy the food and time together.

The importance of reunion during the Spring Festival has caused some difficult situations for China's increasingly women's lib. couples in recent years, who want to go to different homes for the festival. Divorce has happened because of disputes over going to whose home for the festival. (In the past a married couple would always go to the man's home unless the husband joined the wife's family at marriage.)   

Traditional Spring Festival Activities

Spring Festival History

The Spring Festival has a history of more than 4,000 years. It is said that it originated from a belief in deities that had to be sacrificed to every year. When the solar terms changed, dictating farming activities, especially at the end of a year, people would sacrifice to the deities and pray for a good harvest.

Rarely Seen Cultural Activities to See

the spring festival Chinese New Year lion dance

Many cultural activities occur during the festival. Rural areas and small towns retain more traditional celebrations, such as setting off firecrackers, ancestor worship, and dragon dances. Setting off firecrackers and fireworks are common during the Spring Festival season all over China; dragon dances and ancestor worship less so in the city.

At temple fairsin many Chinese cities traditional performances can be seen: dragon dances, lion dances, and performances representing palace events like an emperor's wedding. A great variety of traditional Chinese products are on offer there, and strange Chinese snacks, rarely seen the rest of the year. Beijing's temple fairs are held in parks from the first day of the lunar year to the Lantern Festival.   

In North China people perform various versions of the Rice Sprout Song (扭秧歌 Niǔyāng Gē /nyoh-yang ger/ ‘twist sprout song'), a traditional Chinese dance performed by a group of colorfully-dressed women and men.

Red Decorations Everywhere

temple of the earth Red lanterns hang in a park in Beijing

Every street, building, and house is decorated with red. “Red” is the main color for the festival, as it is believed to be an auspicious color. Red lanterns hang in streets; red couplets are pasted on doors; banks and official buildings are decorated with red New Year pictures depicting images of prosperity.

As 2015 is the year of goat, decorations related to goats will be commonly seen. There are red goat dolls for children and New Year paintings with goats on. Read more on Chinese New Year Decorations.

Red Envelopes — the Most Popular Gifts

Like Christmas in the West, people exchange gifts during the Spring Festival. The most common gifts are red envelopes. Red envelopes have money in, and are given to children and (retired) seniors. It is not a customs to give red envelopes to (working) adults. Read more on Chinese New Year Gift Ideas

Foods with Symbolic Meanings Are Eaten

Chinese Dumplings Chinese Dumplings is a must for Chinese New Year

Certain foods are eaten during the festival because of their symbolic meanings, based on their names or appearance.

Fish is a must for Chinese New Year as the Chinese word for fish (鱼 yú /yoo/) sounds like the word for surplus (余 yú). Eating fish is believed to bring a surplus of money and good luck in the coming year. 

Another traditional Chinese New Year food is Chinese dumplings. Because the shape of Chinese dumplings looks like  silver ingot - a kind of  ancient Chinese money, Chinese people believe eating dumplings during the New Year festival will bring more money and wealth for the coming year. 

Other New Year foodincludes spring rolls, glutinous rice cakes and Sweet Rice Balls.

A Season of Superstitions

Chinese New Year taboo

Chinese people believe that, as the Spring Festival is the start of a new year, what you do then will affect your luck in the coming year. There are many taboos for the Spring Festival season. These taboos usually apply up to a month before the festival and continue to the end of the festival (day 15, the Lantern Festival). They are strictly followed in rural areas by the older generations, but the younger generations and people in urban areas may not know them.

  • Some Chinese people believe that they mustn't do cleaning and wash their hair in the first three days as that will sweep/wash away good luck.
  • A cry of a child is believed to bring bad luck to the family, so the young are placated fastidiously.
  • To ask for a loan is a big "no-no".
  • Another interesting thing is the red underwear. You will see red underwear sold at supermarkets and street markets. Red is believed to ward off bad luck and misfortune. For the people born in a year of the goat (1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003), red underwear is a must for 2015.
  • To pray in a temple during the Chinese New Year is said to be blessed, and will lead to a smooth coming year. In Shanghai, China's biggest city, thousands flock to Longhua Temple, the city's biggest temple, praying for good fortune. Read more on Things You Cannot Do During Chinese New Year.

Modern Spring Festival Activities

Traffic Is in Chaos

Guilin Railway station Packed Guilin Railway Station

It seems the whole nation is on the move during the festival. The festival is the busiest travel season in China, when trains and buses are fully packed. Even flight tickets are hard to get.

Chinese people do whatever they can to go home to see their families: buying a ticket from scalpers at several times the price, queuing for three days, fighting for a ticket to stand for more than 20 hours in an over-packed train, or riding a bus with 20 extra passengers on stools down the aisle for 12 hours or more.

China's migrant workers are the main force during this migration. They carry large and heavy bags full of their worldly possessions and gifts, traveling generally from China's rich east back to their hometowns.

A Rough Time for Singles — Rent a Fake Boyfriend?

Boyfriend rental for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a joyful time for most, but for singles above the normal matrimonial age it is not so. Parents and relatives think they should be settled down.

In China, females are said to be marriageable before 30, and males before 32. Those who don't get married before these ages are thought to be the dregs of society.

For these singles, parents are extremely anxious. So New Year's Eve is heighted by embarrassing interrogations of the singles. Parents even arrange dating for their single children.

To solve this problem an interesting, and often ridiculous, solution has appeared — renting a boyfriend or girlfriend for the New Year. There are websites and agents specialized in this business. Taobao, China's largest online retailer, has a section for fake boyfriend and girlfriend rentals. The price is about 100 yuan (16 USD) a day.  

Chinese New Year Cell Phone Messaging

Sending c ell phone me ssages ha s become the main way to greet people on Chinese New Year's Eve.

During the past, people sent New Year cards or called each other to express their good wishes during the Spring Festival. Now most people use cell phone text m essages or WeChat (微信 Wēixìn /way-sshin/) to greet their friends. There are plentiful messages online for people to choose when the new year is coming. Long or short, these messages are filled with warmth and good wishes.

Me ssage sending beg ins on New Year's Eve — hours before the New Year's reunion dinner, and sending m essages reaches its peak the moment New Year's day arrives ( midnight). So many m essages are sent that the mobile networks may get congested at times.

Read more on Chinese New Year Greetings.

A Practical Day-by-Day Guide to Chinese Spring Festival 2015

If you are in China during 2015’s Chinese New Year period, the following table might be useful to you. Several pointers are listed, such as when transport is most crowded, when it improves, when there are lots of fireworks, whether banks and government offices are open in this period, when shops re-open, greetings and customs,

Date

Activities

Transport

Business

February 1–17

Homeward Bound, Cleaning, shopping

Crazy busy

End of year company events; winding down of operations

February 18 (New Year's Eve)

Pasting red couplets, hanging red lanterns, the New Year reunion dinner, setting off firecrackers, giving red envelops to kids, staying up late to watch CCTV’s New Year Gala

Better, but local transport can be busy

Most shops close by the afternoon

February 19 (New Year’s Day)

At midnight a barrage of fireworks and firecrackers like WW3, more firecrackers in the morning (before opening the door) and early evening (before dinner); visiting neighbors or friends and relatives nearby; giving kids red envelopes, staying at home to relax or visiting parks

Quiet

No bank or government office is open. Only big shopping malls are open.

February 20 (Chinese New Year day 2)

Visiting friends or relatives, firecrackers for greeting guests and before dinner

Quiet

Almost no bank or government office is open. Only big shopping malls are open.

February 21 (Chinese New Year day 3)

Visiting friends and relatives in the city or friends and family in nearby villages

Local travel and town and village buses are busy, but travel to other cities and domestic flights are ok.

Some banks and government offices are open, but business is limited and hours are much shorter. Only some big shopping malls are open.

February 22–23 (Chinese New Year days 4 and 5)

The statutory holiday period is over. Some people will keep visiting friends and relatives; some will go back to work.

Very busy

Most banks and government offices will be open, but business is limited and hours are shorter. Most shops will be open.

February 24 (New Year day 6)

For most it’s the first day back at work.

Very busy

Almost all shops, companies, and offices will reopen on this day, because 6 is a lucky number in Chinese culture.

February 25 – March 5 (New Year days 7–15)

Return travel; Lantern Festival is on the 5th

Crazy busy

Some businesses may choose the 8th (February 26) to reopen, as 8 is also a lucky number. The non-superstitious may reopen on the 25th

Chinese new year celebrations

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