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How Chinese New Year Is Celebrated Traditionally

Release date:2015-12-28

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 festivalChinese 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 fairs in 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.

Lucky Decorations Everywhere

temple of the earthRed 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 2016 is the year of monkey, decorations related to monkeys will be commonly seen. There are red monkey dolls for children and New Year paintings with monkeys 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 Lucky Meanings Are Eaten

Chinese DumplingsChinese 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 food includes spring rolls, glutinous rice cakes and Sweet Rice Balls.

A Season of Superstitions — How to be Lucky in 2016…

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 Monkey (1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004), red underwear is a must for 2016.

  • 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.

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