Chun Jie (Spring Festival, also called Chinese New Year) is the biggest festival of the year in China held on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar and will last for 15 days. This day falls in late January or mid February. People will travel long distances to be with their family at this time. There are many traditions associated with Chinese New Year. In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, people will thoroughly clean their houses, repay debts, cut their hair, and buy new clothes. On the last day of the old year, families get together for a large meal. In many parts of China a sticky-sweet glutinous rice pudding is served (nian gao), and in other parts they serve steamed dumplings (jiaozi). The family stays up late talking and at midnight, they will set off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits and greet the New Year.
The next morning people put on their new clothes and visit their friends and relatives to wish them a happy and prosperous new year. Visitors are served sweet meats, melon seeds, fruits, and delicacies like puffed rice cakes, dumplings, and deep fried round doughnuts. The visitors will give a red packet (Hongbao) to all the unmarried children of the family before leaving. There are parades held at this time with lion and dragon dancing.
Much superstition is followed on Chinese New Year. The lights on the porch and in the parlor are not turned off on New Year’s Day. The house is not swept during the first week of New Year’s in fear of sweeping out the good fortune. No knife is used, even for cooking. No arguing or words with bad connotations are to be used (defeat, illness, operations, coffin, and death). People are very careful with dishes because a broken dish on New Year’s Day will indicate bad luck for the coming year. The celebration lasts for 15 days.
During Chinese New Year, people decorate their homes in many ways. Red is a lucky color symbolizing luck and wealth. Red decorations will be seen throughout the home. Doors are decorated with vertical scrolls that have sayings meaning good luck. The living room is decorated with pomelos, oranges, and tangerines. The golden color of these fruits symbolizes money is thought to bring fortune in the New Year.
There is one story that is commonly told around Chinese New Year. It is the story of a beast called Nian. It is said that on the last day of the 12th lunar month when food was scarce, he would invade villages to eat human beings and beasts because he was hungry. The people did not like this and were scared of the Nian. On one New Year’s Eve, the Nian came to a village and accidentally encountered 2 boys who were seeing who could crack their whip the best.
The Nian was so scared by the cracking sound that it ran away forever. It came to a second village where 2 red gowns hung up on a door to dry and it was scared away again. It came to a third village and this time it was frightened away by lights. The people learned that the Nian was afraid of 3 things…noise, red and light. To defend themselves against the Nian, they devised many methods that found their way into the customs observed at the Chinese New Year celebration.