Guest Author - Inci Yilmazli
The Chinese New Year is also called the Spring Festival and it is the most important festival for the Chinese, just like Christmas is for Western countries. As you know, the Chinese use a lunar calendar, and therefore the dates for the New Year changes every year, but mostly falls in late January and the beginning of February. In 2013, New Year’s Eve for the Chinese is on February 9 and the celebrations last 15 days, until the Lantern Festival. 2013 is the year of “snake”.
The festival has a history of 4000 years. However, in the beginning, it was not celebrated on a fixed date and was not named as the Spring Festival. The Chinese have identified one tour of Jupiter as the ‘age’ in B.C 2100. Later on, they started using the word ‘year’ instead of ‘age’ and they named the festival the Spring Festival.
According to the customs and traditions, the Spring Festival starts on the 23rd day of the 12th month according to the lunar calendar and lasts until the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao) which is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the new year. The most important days during this period are the 30th night of the 12th month and the first day of the first month of the new year.
The Preparations and Celebrations
Celebration preparations start in December. The houses are cleaned as it represents the cleaning of the house from the old year’s dust and starting the new year clean. In the big cities, culture and art events are organized, the streets are decorated, big fairs are held in big parks and squares.
The celebrations show differences among the different regions of China. However, the reunion dinner of the family members is the same in every region. In Southern China, there are more than 10 dishes in the dinner on the last day of the year. These dishes must include Doufu (Soy cheese) and fish, because the pronounciation of the words ‘soy cheese’ and ‘fish’ in Chinese is similar to the pronounciation of the word for ‘wealthiness’. In Northern China, Jiaozi (dumpling) is served for reunion dinner.
An ancient tradition for the last night of the year is to stay awake all night long to welcome the new year. The Chinese used to welcome the New Year with firecrackers to keep evil away. However, due to the safety and pollution issues, firecrackers are banned in big cities like Beijing.
The celebrations are held all over the country. In some places, local opera performances are held while in some places Lion Dance, Yangge Dance are performed. Most of the populations prefer to stay in and watch TV as the TV channels broadcast shows for all types of audiences. The celebrations also include poems about spring, painting, lighting the lanterns.Chinese people gather around in squares to countdown and welcome the New Year. When it’s midnight, the bells which are located in the squares, start to ring. This is the symbol of the New Year as it’s believed to bring good luck and keep bad luck away.
The houses, streets, buildings are decorated for the New Year and the predominant color is red for the decorations. Red is believed to be a lucky color. The red lanterns are commonly used as well as the paper-cuts. Paper cutting is an art form in China. The paper-cuts, mostly in red, are prepared and hung on the windows.
After the New Year, it’s the holidays for one week and people visit their families and friends. On the eighth day of the New Year, everybody goes back to their normal life and the celebrations stop. The 15th day of the New Year is the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao) which means that the Spring Festival is over.
Different cultures have different customs and traditions to celebrate the New Year. Customs can change over time, the times for celebrations can differ. However, the most important thing is to remember and be with family during the holidays no matter which culture you are living in.