Lunar New Year / Spring Festival
春节[chun jié]

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. In 2024, the first day of the Lunar New Year will be on Saturday, February 10, which is the Year of the Dragon.

The Lunar New Year is associated with several myths and customs. The festival was traditionally a time to honor deities as well as ancestors. Regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the New Year vary widely within China, and the evening preceding the New Year's Day is frequently regarded as an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner.

It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly clean their house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Another custom is the decoration of windows and doors with red paper-cuts and couplets. Popular themes among these paper-cuts and couplets include that of good fortune or happiness, wealth, and longevity. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes. For the northern regions of China, dumplings are featured prominently in meals celebrating the festival. It often serves as the first meal of the year either at midnight or as breakfast of the first day.

Chinese Zodiac Signs

The Chinese zodiac, shēngxiào 生肖, is based on a twelve year cycle, each year in the cycle related to an animal sign. Each one has his own animal sign according to his year of the birth (calculated according to the Chinese lunar calendar).

According to the historical literature, the 12 animals in China used today including the animal selection and their orders were originated in the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD). Legend has it that the Jade Emperor, who ruled the heavens of China, summoned all the animals to his palace in a “Great Race”, and the order in which they arrived determined the animal’s place in the zodiac.
The Great Race - How the Chinese Zodiac was created

The order of the zodiac animals are: Rat 鼠(shǔ), Ox 牛(niú), Tiger 虎(hǔ), Rabbit 兔(tù), Dragon 龙(lóng), Snake 蛇(shé), Horse 马(mǎ), Goat 羊(yáng), Monkey 猴(hóu), Rooster 鸡(jī), Dog 狗(gǒu), Pig 猪(zhū).

Celebration of the Chinese New Year

The celebration takes place from the Chinese New Year's Eve to the Lantern Festival, held on the 15th day of the year. The New Year's Eve reunion dinner is very large and sumptuous, and traditionally dishes consisting of meats (namely, pork and chicken) and fish. This meal is comparable to Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S.

In northern China, it is customary to make jiaozi 饺子, or dumplings, after dinner to eat around midnight. Dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape resembles a Chinese sycee. In contrast, in the South, it is customary to make niángāo年糕, a glutinous new year cake, and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days. Niángāo literally means "new year cake" with a homophonous meaning of "increasingly prosperous year in year out".

After dinner, some families go to local temples hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year however in modern practice, many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new year. Traditionally, firecrackers were lit to scare away evil spirits with the household doors sealed, not to be reopened until the new morning in a ritual called "opening the door of fortune" (开财门 kāicáimén). A tradition of going to bed late on New Year's Eve, or even keeping awake the whole night and morning, known as shǒusuì守岁, is still practiced as it is thought to add on to one's parents' longevity.

The first day

The first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. It is a traditional practice to light fireworks, burn bamboo sticks and firecrackers and to make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil spirits as encapsulated by nian of which the term Guo Nian was derived. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year's Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the days before. On this day, it is considered bad luck to use the broom, as good fortune is not to be "swept away" symbolically.

Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time to honor one's elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Chinese New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Members of the family who are married also give red envelopes containing cash known as hóngbāo 红包, a form of blessings and to suppress the aging and challenges associated with the coming year, to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. Business managers also give bonuses through red packets to employees for good luck, smooth-sailing, good health and wealth.

The second day

Incense is burned at the graves of ancestors as part of the offering and prayer rituals. The second day of the Chinese New Year, known as "beginning of the year" 开年 kāinián, was when married daughters visited their birth parents, relatives and close friends. Traditionally, married daughters didn't have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.

The fifteenth day

The fifteenth day of the new year is celebrated as Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节 yuán xiāo jié), also known as Lantern Festival. Rice dumplings, 汤圆tāngyuán, a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, are eaten this day. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. This day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the street carrying lighted lantern.