Our stories & traditions : Chinese Spring Festival!

Iimage: courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsThis wonderful addition to our Community Stories page was sent through by Jinyun. If you’d like to read more stories from our community, head over to our Community Stories & Traditions page — you can even contribute your own!

The Spring Festival is the most important festival for Chinese people and is the time all family members get together, just like Christmas. As the world’s largest mass migration, people from all over China travel home to celebrate the Spring Festival. This year will be The Year of the Snake.

The Spring Festival falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month, often late January or early February. However, in China, the Spring Festival actually starts on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month and will last till the mid of the 1st lunar month of the next year. Now Chinese people have a seven day holiday for the Spring Festival.

The 23rd day of the 12th lunar month is called “Xiaonian”. On that day, people worship the Kitchen God. According to Chinese legend, the Jade Emperor sends a kitchen god to every family to supervise what the family members do in the whole year. Then the kitchen god will go back to report the good or evil of the family on “Xiaonian”. And then the Jade Emperor will decide whether to give rewards or punishments to the family. In order to get rewards and avoid punishments, when people are worshipping the kitchen god on “Xiaonian”, they usually set their best food before the portrait of the kitchen god and cover the mouth of the kitchen god with a special kind of sugar (Zhimatang), wishing the kitchen god to put in good words for the family. The 24th day of the 12th month is cleaning day. People clean the house from top to bottom inside and outside as well as their clothes, bedclothes and all their utensils to get rid off all the bad luck gathered from the previous year. It’s called “the day of seeing spring in”.

On the 27th day of the 12th lunar month, people shower or bath and go shopping.

Shops are busy as everybody goes out to buy what they need for the Spring Festival including food, decorations, new clothes and shoes for the children and gifts for the elderly.

Then people start decorating their clean houses. All the door panels will be pasted with Spring Festival couplets, highlighting Chinese calligraphy with characters on red paper. The content can be good wishes or good luck. Also, pictures of the god of doors and wealth will be posted on front doors.

The Chinese character “fu” (meaning blessing or happiness) is a must. The character put on paper can be pasted normally upside down, as in Chinese the “reversed fu” sound means “fu comes”. Some people raise two big red lanterns on both sides of the front door and some people paste red paper-cuttings on windows.

Then the important Spring Festival Eve dinner comes. The meal is more luxurious than usual. Fish and Toufu cannot be excluded, as in Chinese, their sound means abundance and richness. And people are not allowed to finish the whole fish, which means you always have enough for the future. After the dinner, the whole family will sit together and stay up to see the New Year in, which is called “Shousui”.

Getting up early on the New Year day, everybody dresses up. People greet their parents first. Then children will get money wrapped up in red paper. People in northern China will eat “jiaozi” (dumplings) for breakfast, as they think “jiaozi” sounds like “bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new”. Also, the shape of the dumpling is like a gold ingot from ancient China. So people eat them and wish for money and treasure.

Southern Chinese eat “niangao” (New Year cake made of rice flour) on this occasion, because “niangao” sounds like “higher and higher, one year after another.”

Don’t clean for the first few days of the Spring Festival – if you do any sweeping during this time, you risk sweeping away your good luck.

Lighting fireworks was once the most typical custom on the Spring Festival. People thought the exploding sound could help drive away evil spirits. However, such an activity was banned in big cities once the government considered security, noise and pollution. As a replacement, some people buy CDs with firecracker sounds to listen to, some break little balloons to get the sound, while others buy firecracker handicrafts to hang in the living room.

A series of activities such as lion dancing, dragon dancing, and temple fairs will be held for days. The Spring Festival then comes to an end on the Lantern Festival which is the 15th day of the first lunar month.

No matter where they live, Chinese people all over the world celebrate the Spring Festival.

To see how Chinese people in Wellington celebrate the Spring Festival this year, go to the Chinese New Year website, or check out the Wellington City Council’s Summer City programme