Spring Festival is the most important traditional festival in China. Chinese people travel from all parts of the country to return home to be with family for the Spring Festival. It originated during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC-c. 1100 BC) from the people's sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one. Spring Festival begins on the first day of the lunar January and ends on the January 15th.
Spring Festival is also called “Nian”. In past legend, Nian was an ancient monster that lived in the mountains. It would come down to the villages annually during the Spring Festival to eat people. Later people found that Nian was afraid of fire and loud sounds. So people stuck red grilles on their doors and windows while their children set off firecrackers to scare Nian.
The last night of a year is called “Chuxi” (New Year's Eve). On New Year's Eve people eat dumplings in northern China. Eating dumplings on New Year's Eve signifies farewell to the old year, and greetings to the new year. It is traditional to eat New Year's Cake (a cake made of glutinous rice flour) in the southern regions of China. On the first day of the New Year, men and women dress in their holiday best, while giving best wishes for a long life to elderly family and good luck money to children.
People will also celebrate by having festive dinners with friends and family while wishing each other good fortune and a happy new year.
I'm still surprised by how many Spring Festival traditions there are in different parts of China. We interviewed a few GoEasters to share a few of their traditions.
Liu Xiang (from Jiaozuo in Henan province) shared their Spring Festival with us. Between lunar January 1st and 3rd, women dress up in bright red and green with ribbons circling their waists and dance in formation on city streets. It is known as one of the representative forms of folk art in northern China. It’s a symbol of happiness for the new year.
In Meishan (Sichuan province), instead of celebrating the Lantern Festival by guessing riddles on lanterns, people are allowed to "steal" vegetables from their neighbour's field at night. It's actually an honour if your vegetables are chosen to be stolen, since it is a sign of their health.
Spiced Corned Eggs
Lyida Wei (one of our teachers), comes from Anhui province where people celebrate Spring Festival by eating spiced corned eggs. This kind of egg is called "yuan-bao" (ancient money in the shape of a boat) and is a symbol of good fortune.
Grant Liu, our intern, told us about the traditions he picked up while living in Anyang. They have very old traditions there because the city itself is so ancient. January 5th of the lunar calendar is the first unlucky day of the year. Instead of inviting people over, people stay at home with family and clean up the house to get rid of bad luck. In fact it is considered inappropriate to visit a friend on January 5th.
Spring Poetry Slam
Susan Shu, another one of our teachers, told us about how in Jingdezhen people paste couplets to their doors for Spring Festival. Usually couplets are pasted on red paper, however if anyone close to the family had passed away that year the couplets would be pasted on blue or yellow paper.
In Chaoyang, people believe that on Lunar February 2nd (during the spring equinox), the dragon wakes up from its winter hibernation. Getting a haircut on that day is believed to bring good luck for the whole year. However getting it on any day before that would bring a curse.