Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) Explained

It is that time of year again in China (and around the world), to celebrate China’s most famous holiday…Spring Festival. I thought I would find various websites that help explain the holiday for your amusement. These are not my words. They are internet information. And, we all know how reliable the internet is. Ha Ha.

According to legend, the celebration of the Chinese New Year began with a monster called Nian. The beast would arrive on the first day of the new year and devour crops, livestock and people. To protect themselves, people put food outside their doors, hoping that Nian wouldn’t attack after eating. They also used firecrackers to scare it away. One year, Nian was driven from a village by a child wearing red clothes, so people began hanging red lanterns and scrolls on their windows and doors when a new year began—and Nian never returned. (Nian was eventually captured by Hongjunlaozu, a Taoist monk, and became his mount.)

Today, the Chinese New Year is celebrated with a festival that begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the fifteenth day (at least since the Han Dynasty—before that, dynasties celebrated during the twelfth, eleventh or tenth months). The Nian legend explains the food, the lanterns and the fireworks that we associate with the holiday, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who knows his Chinese zodiac sign, but doesn’t know story behind it. Let’s fix that.

What’s your sign? (And what are the signs?)

While we have a linear concept of time in the West, the traditional Chinese calendar is cyclical and based on the cycles of the moon (China has used the Western calendar since 1911, but the lunar version is still used for holidays and festive occasions). A folk method for keeping track of the years is the twelve animal signs. Each year is assigned an animal according to this cycle: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep (or Ram), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar (or Pig).

In addition to the 12-year animal zodiac, there’s a 10-year cycle of ten “heavenly stems” composed of the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water) in their alternating yin and yang forms. Together, they form a 60-year cycle that begins with Yang Wood Rat and ends with Yin Water Boar. The last cycle began in 1984 and will end in 2044.

Why are the animals in that order?

According to Chinese legend, when the system was created, thirteen animals argued about who got to be first in the cycle of years. The gods (or the Jade Emperor or the Buddha, depending on where you hear the story) decided that a contest was the only fair way to settle the matter. The animals would race across a river and be placed in the cycle in the order that they finished.

The Rat & The Ox: The thirteen animals gathered on one side of the river and jumped in. The rat was a poor swimmer and decided that the best way to cross the river was to ride on the ox’s back. The ox—apparently a little naïve—let the rat on board. As soon as the ox crossed the river, the rat jumped off his back and, in a photo finish, touched the shore first.

The Tiger: Not far behind was the tiger, which had a harder time fighting the river’s current than the ox, but was just strong enough to come in third.

The Rabbit & The Dragon: The rabbit arrived next, explaining that it planned to cross the river by jumping from one stone to another. Halfway across, though, the rabbit hopped onto a floating log and almost got swept downstream. The log somehow washed up on shore. The dragon, which flew across the river, came in fifth. The gods were curious as to why a mighty flying dragon didn’t come in first place. The dragon explained that it had to stop to make rain for the earth. On the way to the finish line, the dragon saw rabbit clinging to a log and decided to do a good deed and blow the log to shore.

The Snake & The Horse: The horse then came galloping up onto the shore, only to be surprised by the sight of the snake, which had hidden itself wrapped around the horse’s hoof. The startled horse fell backwards into the river, allowing the snake the sixth spot, while the horse placed seventh.

The Ram, The Monkey & The Rooster: The ram, monkey and rooster came ashore together after helping each other across the river. The rooster spotted a raft at the start of the race and agreed to share if the others rowed. The gods placed them in the order they stepped off the raft.

The Dog & The Pig: The dog, which was supposed to be the best swimmer of the bunch, came in eleventh place. It explained that it was so far behind because it hadn’t had a good bath in a while and decided to take one in the river. The pig, which finished last, also got held up when it got hungry during the race and stopped for lunch and a nap.

And the 13th animal that started the race? The cat was also riding on the ox’s back, but the rat pushed the cat into the river, costing it a spot in the cycle. This must be why cats don’t like rats or water to this day.

Making pigs (and rats and oxen and rams, etc.) of ourselves

Each animal has a distinct personality, and the animal sign a person is born under is believed to bestow upon them certain traits and characteristics. But the animals assigned by year are not the only factor. There are also inner animal signs (representing the person you would like to be) assigned to the month you were born and secret animal signs (representing the side of you hidden from the rest of the world) assigned to the shichen or “large-hour” (two-hour period of the day) during which you were born. I was born in the year of the Rat, but I’m a Dog internally and a Monkey secretly.

This helps explain the Chinese Zodiac:

The Twelve Signs of Chinese ZodiacThe twelve animal zodiacs are the base of Chinese astrology. Here we have listed each zodiac and its unique characteristics. The birth year correspondence for the people born in January, or February should be double checked as the Chinese new year changes each year, usually falling between the end of January and the start of February. So, for example, if your birthday falls on January 13, 1900, and the Chinese new year that year is on January 29, your zodiac is Pig and not Rat, even though the table shows the people born in 1900 to be “Rat” people.

The Rat
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: zi
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: shui/Water
Yin Yang: Yang

They are quick to spot potential and put their creative and clever ideas into effect. As the first sign of the zodiac, Rats make great leaders and enjoy being in authoritative positions. Their restless nature pushes them into taking the lead of situations around. At times, they may appear to be unyielding, greedy, and self-centered as their manner is aggressively enthusiastic. Intelligent, charming, and ambitious, they are more often than not triumphant as businessmen. Rats are self-contained and do not discuss their problems with others. Even though they can be talkative sometimes, they never confide in anyone. They are energetic and great organizers; so if you want something done, call in a Rat. They are suited to careers in shopkeeping, sales, buying and selling, or accountancy. Rats shine in managerial positions. In partnership, Rats are faithful if their partner is able to provide safety, assurance, and love that they need. They are not romantic by nature, but are very caring and loving.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: Northeast, Southeast
Colors: Green, Blue, Golden; Avoid: Brown and Yellow
Numbers: 2, 3; Avoid: 5, 9
Flowers: Lily of the Valley, African Violet, Lily
Match: Dragon, Ox, Monkey; Avoid: Rabbit, Ram, HorseBack to Types

The Ox
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: chou
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: tu/Earth
Yin Yang: YinThe Ox builds plans and ideas on resolute reasons. People under this Chinese zodiac are steadfast, dependable, honest, and compassionate. They are very family-oriented, conservative, and faithful. They achieve success after lots of patience and hard work. For them to work through with their ideas and thoughts, they need complete peace and harmony. They enjoy being in positions of power and are satisfied with the position of a boss, or decision maker. However, limelight does not attract them. They are best left alone to work as they have a tendency to turn hotheaded, inflexible, and stubborn when pushed. They are logical and do not forgive easily if cheated upon. They prefer truthfulness, loyalty, and commitment in a partner. They are often very skilled with their hands, making them good with the practice of medicine. They do well in careers related to archaeology, geology, visual arts, farming, estate management, cooking, and religion.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: Due North, Southeast, and Due South
Colors: Red, Purple, Blue; Avoid: Green and White
Numbers: 9, 1; Avoid: 3, 4
Flowers: Peach Blossom, Evergreen Tulip
Match: Rat, Snake, Rooster; Avoid: Horse, Dog, RamBack to Types

The Tiger
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: yin
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: mu/Wood
Yin Yang: YangTigers are resolute, vehement, and positive with a dominant disposal. They are magnetic characters, and their inborn air of authority bestows a certain prestige on them. They explore the potential in unlikely situations. They like to see everything settled, rarely abandon projects, and will become self-centered and obstinate if they fail to achieve anything. Tigers tend to place themselves in leadership, or radical roles. They are revered for their undying bravery, even by those, who are against them. They may become aggressive if trapped, or kept in an isolated area for a long period. In love, they need a stable harmonious partner who quietly gets on with his/her own life. With a wide intelligence, they have chances of adopting diverse and colorful career options. Their varied experiences enrich their life, adding depth to their personality. These born leaders are suited to travel, designing, advertising, politics, or the military.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: South, East, Southeast
Colors: Blue, Gray, White, Orange; Avoid: Golden, Silver, Brown, Black
Numbers: 1, 3, 4; Avoid: 6, 7, 8
Flowers: Cineraria
Match: Horse, Dog; Avoid: Snake, MonkeyBack to Types

The Rabbit
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: mao
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: mu/Wood
Yin Yang: YinUsually affable, generous, and serenely tamed by nature, rabbits prefer their life to be low-key and easygoing. They get anxious if forced to take risks. They enjoy detailing in their work and use it to create a peaceful aura in their lives. Rabbits, more often than not, prefer the easy road. Their ideal partner is loving with a kind heart who always fulfills their desires. They are outgoing creatures, who are diplomatic by nature and always polite to others. They are popular and loved by their friends and family. However, they are conservative and insecure too; and that explains why most of them don’t like changes. Highly creative in their work, art is of extreme interest to them. Rabbits are suited to careers in literature, art, design, public relations, counseling, advisory occupations, and law. They also make good secretaries.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: East, Southeast, South
Colors: Red, Pink, Purple, Blue; Avoid: Dark Brown, Dark Yellow, White
Numbers: 3, 4, 9; Avoid: 1, 7, 8
Flowers: Snapdragon, Flower of Fragrant Plantain Lily, Nerve Plant
Match: Ram, Pig, Dog; Avoid: Rat, DragonBack to Types

The Dragon
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: chen
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: mu/Wood
Yin Yang: YinWith a personality that is peppy, animated, and self-assured, dragons are good at creating an impression. They are interested in the realm around them that is filled with energy and are comfortable being the center of attention. Dragons make a very good judgment of situations and are experts at stepping in at the right moment to resolve things. They can be determined. With a great stroke of luck following them, they are quite reflective and noble in their approach. They can also be courageous, magnetic, and have an unwavering approach to life. They view their own selves as the knight in shining armor. In romantic endeavors, they want a partner who gives them ample amount of space and respect, yet is romantic and passionate by nature. Their careers can be in acting, law, religion, management, or arts. They enjoy responsibilities and do not tolerate being trapped in small-time jobs, or being at the grace of others.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: North, West, Northwest
Colors: Golden, Silver, Hoary; Avoid: Purple, Green, Red, Black
Numbers: 1, 7, 6; Avoid: 9, 8, 3
Flowers: Bleeding Heart Vine, Larkspur
Match: Rat, Monkey, Rooster; Avoid: Ox, Rabbit, DogBack to Types

The Snake
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: si
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: huo/Fire
Yin Yang: YinSnakes enjoy being the one in control. They are fascinating and mesmerizing, yet calculative and orthodox. They have a high level of endurance and can keep working in adversity, too. They have the alertness of a snake and often exhibit an eerie viewpoint. Togetherness, love, and constant encouragement are important to a snake in intimate relationships. They prefer partners, who enjoy snuggled ambiance and close intimacy. They are patient when it comes to waiting for something. They may consistently observe for long periods and then attack at the precise moment. Their career options are in public relations, archeology, astrology, philosophy, catering, or law.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: Northeast, Southwest, and South
Colors: Red, Light Yellow, Black; Avoid: White, Golden, Brown
Numbers: 2, 8, 9; Avoid: 1, 6, 7
Flowers: Orchid, Cactus
Match: Ox, Rooster; Avoid: Tiger, PigBack to Types

The Horse
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: wu
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: huo/Fire
Yin Yang: YangHorses are self-sustained, undaunted, filled with tenacity, and enterprising. They are also extremely truthful and trustworthy. They are constantly working to have their potential and skills recognized. They are dedicated and loyally devoted to their work, family, and home. Even in the face of problems, Horses have a penchant to work ahead, which is a hallmark of their stupendous self-determination. They are always ready to do their very best and are usually adherent to whatever they concentrate on. They are often very devoted to their work and seek a partner who will not only take proper care of them, but will also leave them unrestrained to take on their own prolific ventures if needed. In career pursuits, they will make good politicians, explorers, or artists.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: Northeast, Southwest, and Northwest
Colors: Brown, Yellow, Purple; Avoid: Blue, White, Golden
Numbers: 2, 3, 7; Avoid: 1, 6, 5
Flowers: Calla Lily, Jasmine, Marigold
Match: Tiger, Ram, Dog; Avoid: Rat, Ox, RabbitBack to Types

The Ram
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: wei
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: tu/Earth
Yin Yang: YinRams are considered patient and prefer to have everything in restraint and foresight in all aspects of their lives. They are bearers of immense pressure, yet they remain sturdy and steadfast. They are characteristically hard workers, who go on accomplishing a lot and can easily take on more than their share of work. Often, they will remain in the backdrop of an undertaking, reluctant of any attention, or prominence. Good at team work, their coherent nature makes them very dependable. In love, they are bent towards a partner who will defend and safeguard them and yet give them room for their creativity. They can have abstract careers in the field of arts, research, outdoor work, emergency relief work, in libraries, or in design.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: East, Southeast, South
Colors: Green, Red, Purple; Avoid: Golden, Coffee
Numbers: 3, 9, 4; Avoid: 7, 6, 8
Flowers: Carnation, Primrose, Alice Flower
Match: Rabbit, Horse, Pig; Avoid: Ox, DogBack to Types

The Monkey
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: shen
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: jin/Metal
Yin Yang: YangThese are the most active of all the signs of the zodiac and are born with a sense of passion that comes from within. They have a mental gift of being brilliant and are fast learners; they come up with creative ideas and like to grasp more and more knowledge. They enjoy playing games and are always ready to pester, or pull pranks. Their fast-moving spirit sometimes makes them appear uncaring and inconsiderate to others. Thus, many a time, for this reason, they find it difficult to settle with one person. Often, Monkeys will find themselves born into families that are financially well-settled. They can be very determined and compliant, too. As far as their career is concerned, they are good at design, media management, public relations, and planning.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: North, Northwest, West
Colors: White, Golden, Blue; Avoid: Red, Black, Gray, Dark Coffee
Numbers: 1, 8, 7; Avoid: 9, 2, 5
Flowers: Chrysanthemum
Match: Rat, Dragon, Snake; Avoid: Tiger, PigBack to Types

The Rooster
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: you
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: jin/Metal
Yin Yang: Yin

Roosters are people, who are very tenacious, defiant, and insightful. They enjoy singing and music, and often tend to be very creative. They have a very powerful sense of imagination. They have a unique strength of perseverance and often exhibit firm immediate power — always knowing what they want. They are very good talkers and are excellent at dissuading people. In relationships, they frequently yearn for companionship or friendship and make clever observers of what happens in a partnership. Career-wise, they can be skillful in politics, public relations, arts, creative work, and scientific endeavors.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: West, Southwest, Northeast
Colors: Golden, Brown, Brownish Yellow, Yellow; Avoid: White, Green
Numbers: 5, 8, 7; Avoid: 9, 3, 1
Flowers: Gladiola, Impatiens, Cockscomb
Match: Ox, Dragon, Snake; Avoid: Rat, Rabbit, DogBack to Types

The Dog
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: xu
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: tu/Earth
Yin Yang: Yang

This is the most forthright, friendly, and sincere sign of all. People born under this zodiac always seem to be up for work and fun equally. This quality earns them respect from everyone around them. They are prone to being brave and courageous, and they rarely take back any commitment or betray the trust of a loved one. Their inner strength and physical intensity make them an excellent choice to have in a workplace environment. They are very truthful and honorable, and in relationships, they will settle with someone who stands up for them completely. They work hard for the welfare of others and are patient listeners. They can be very faithful when it comes to their partners and to others around them. They are good at teaching, social work, counseling, medicine, research, public campaigning, and law.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: East, Southeast, South
Colors: Green, Red, Purple; Avoid: Blue, White, Golden
Numbers: 3, 4, 9; Avoid: 1, 6, 7
Flowers: Rose, Oncidium Orchids, Cymbidium Orchids
Match: Tiger, Rabbit, Horse; Avoid: Ox, Dragon, Ram, RoosterBack to Types

The Pig
Earthly Branch of Birth Year: hai
Wu Xing/The Five Elements: shui/Water
Yin Yang: Yin

People under this sign are hospitable, honorable, and mellow. They have a really high threshold of tolerance. They are well-liked for their truthfulness and warmth. They are always finding qualities in people and believe that everyone has a right to hold their own point of view. They are often overflowing with the blessing of wealth and the support of their friends and colleagues. However, they are not bothered about accumulating wealth. They can be satisfied with a modest lifestyle. They rarely find faults in others and are not vengeful; thus, they don’t have any enemies. They accept the lifestyle that they have and are content with that. They do not demand extravagance. They enjoy simple and natural happiness. In relationships, they are often the giver of love and affection and believe that they will receive the same. They have a strong sense of determination and if they set their minds on a task, they tend to pursue it and attain it. Good career options are in music, food, writing, social work, gardening, and nursing.

Stroke of Luck!
Directions: Southeast, Northeast
Colors: Yellow, Gray, Brown, Golden; Avoid: Red, Blue, Green
Numbers: 2, 5, 8; Avoid: 3, 1, 9
Flowers: Hydrangea, Pitcher Plant, Marguerite Daisy
Match: Ram, Rabbit; Avoid: Snake, Monkey, PigBack to Types

Here is another website trying to explain the DAYS of the festival:

Xiǎo Nián / Small New Year

1 Week To Go

This kicks things off and gets people into the holiday spirit. Traditions vary, but it is common to eat dumplings and give the skies and streets a bit of a sampling of the firework extravaganza that is to come. This is also the day you scrub down your entire home so your relatives don’t think you’re a pig when they come and visit next week.

Like the lead-up to the holiday season in the west, this begins the final week of shopping craziness for buying gifts (strange, but practical, things like a box of milk, bottles of pop, fruit, etc. are all acceptable gifts) and stocking pantries in readiness for a few days of nothing being open.

Chú Xī / Chinese New Year’s Eve

Culture Note:

Chun Jie: Fu DaoYou may have noticed diamond-shaped posters appearing on doors around your neighbourhood like the picture we have above. This is the character ““, which means “fortune”, but upside down. Because in Chinese “upside down” is pronounced “dǎo“, which is phonetically similar to “dào, the phrase “fú dào le” or “‘fu’ is upside down” is a clever way of saying “fortune has arrived.”

1 day before, but really, it’s the big day

The morning begins with preparation of food for a big dinner with the whole family. Cooking varies widely depending on the region of China you’re in, but can include deep fried fish; balls (wán zǐ) made from radish, glass noodles and corn starch; steamed bread (mántou); steamed cakes (dòu bāo) filled with sweet bean paste and other deep fried desserts.

The afternoon is reserved for napping, followed by family members burning (fake) money to send to their ancestors. The money, along with incense, is burned in a drawn circle (if burned on the road) or in front of the grave (mùbēi). Extra money is included to appease the ghosts that live on the path to heaven. They are paid off in an effort to stop them from stealing the cash during its journey to the rightful recipient. Loud firecrackers are employed to scare away spirits with sticky fingers, looking to steal the money.

In the evening the entire family gets together to make dumplings (jiǎozi) and cook the dishes prepared earlier that day. At the moment when the dumplings are finished being boiled and are set in a dish, fireworks are lit to celebrate. When all the food is ready, the family gathers around the TV to watch Spring Festival programmes (dancing, singing, magic and acrobatics/zájì, comedy/xiàngsheng, and small plays/xiǎopǐn) while feasting.

Culture Note:

While dumplings are the traditional Spring Festival food in Northern China, southerners more commonly eat sweet balls (yuán xiāo) instead.

After dinner, some play Májiàng (mahjong) or cards, or just continue watching TV and chatting. A crescendo of fireworks steadily grows all evening, until midnight arrives. Dumplings are traditionally eaten again, and an all-out barrage of fireworks are unleashed on the night sky. After midnight, the younger generation must greet their elders with “Guò Nián Hǎo!” or “Have A Good Year” and the older folks give the youngsters red envelopes (hóngbāo) stuffed with money. At this point the older people head to bed, while the younger generation stay up all night playing Majiang, chatting or watching TV.

New Year’s Day / dànián chūyī

the first day of the new year

Breakfast looks much the same as last night’s dinner and midnight snack -– more dumplings and more fireworks to celebrate. New Year’s Day is usually spent with the father’s family, eating, chatting and playing more Majiang. “Guò Nián Hǎo!” is the phrase of the day, and should be said to everyone you come across.

The Day After New Year’s Day / Chū èr

This day is generally spent with the mother’s family in much the same fashion as the previous day.

Lantern Festival / Yuán Xiāo Jié

the 15th day of the new year

About two weeks into the new lunar year the Chinese celebrate what in English we’ve called Lantern Festival, but in Chinese takes its name from the sweet balls (yuán xiāo) made with glutinous rice flour that everyone is expected to eat on this day.

At sundown money is again burned and candles (or electric lights) are put in front of the graves of ancestors to help light their path to heaven. After a dinner of boiled or fried yuan xiao some will stay at home and watch another gala performance on TV and some will go out to the street to see the lantern displays that decorate the neighbourhood. As a final cheer to the holiday season, fireworks once again fill the sky.

But, I like this explanation the best:

What China’s New Year Festival Is

The Longest Public Holiday in China

In 2015 most Chinese will be off work from Wednesday, February 18 (New Year’s Eve) to Tuesday, February 24 (the 6th day of Chinese New Year).

Officially only the first three days of Chinese New Year (February 19–21, 2015) are statutory holiday. Chinese New Year’s Eve and three more days are always added to give seven consecutive days of holiday. These four extra days are taken from weekends: the weekend closest to the statutory holiday is included, while the Sunday before (February 15, 2015) and the Saturday after (February 28, 2015) are worked.

A Festival for Families to Be Together

Chinese New Year Eve's dinner Chinese New Year’s Reunion Dinner

Chinese New Year is a time for families to be together. Wherever they are, people come home to celebrate the festival with their families.

The New Year’s Eve dinner is called Reunion Dinner, and is believed to be the most important meal of the year. Big families – families of several generations sit around round tables and enjoy the food and time together.

The importance of reunion during the Spring Festival has caused some difficult situations for China’s increasingly women’s lib. couples in recent years, who want to go to different homes for the festival. Divorce has happened because of disputes over going to whose home for the festival. (In the past a married couple would always go to the man’s home unless the husband joined the wife’s family at marriage.)

How Chinese New Year Is Celebrated Traditionally

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 festival Chinese 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 earth Red 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 2015 is the year of goat, decorations related to goats will be commonly seen. There are red goat dolls for children and New Year paintings with goats 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 Dumplings Chinese 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 2015…

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 goat (1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003), red underwear is a must for 2015.
  • 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. Read more on Things You Cannot Do During Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year Now — Modern Activities

1.3 Billion People Are on the Move — Traffic Is in Chaos

Guilin Railway station Packed Guilin Railway Station

It seems the whole nation is on the move during the festival. The festival is the busiest travel season in China, when trains and buses are fully packed. Even flight tickets are hard to get.

Chinese people do whatever they can to go home to see their families: buying a ticket from scalpers at several times the price, queuing for three days, fighting for a ticket to stand for more than 20 hours in an over-packed train, or riding a bus with 20 extra passengers on stools down the aisle for 12 hours or more.

China’s migrant workers are the main force during this migration. They carry large and heavy bags full of their worldly possessions and gifts, traveling generally from China’s rich east back to their hometowns.

A Rough Time for Singles — Rent a Fake Boyfriend?

Boyfriend rental for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a joyful time for most, but for singles above the normal matrimonial age it is not so. Parents and relatives think they should be settled down.

In China, females are said to be marriageable before 30, and males before 32. Those who don’t get married before these ages are thought to be the dregs of society.

For these singles, parents are extremely anxious. So New Year’s Eve is heighted by embarrassing interrogations of the singles. Parents even arrange dating for their single children.

To solve this problem an interesting, and often ridiculous, solution has appeared — renting a boyfriend or girlfriend for the New Year. There are websites and agents specialized in this business. Taobao, China’s largest online retailer, has a section for fake boyfriend and girlfriend rentals. The price is about 100 yuan (16 USD) a day.

Sending Lucky Chinese New Year Cell Phone Messages — ‘Three Goats Bring Harmony’

Sending cell phone messages has become the main way to greet people on Chinese New Year’s Eve. In the past people sent New Year cards or called each other to express their good wishes during the Spring Festival. Now most people use cell phone text messages or WeChat (微信 Wēixìn /way-sshin/) to greet their friends.

There are plentiful messages online for people to choose from when New Year is coming. Long or short, these messages are filled with warmth and good wishes.

An old favorite greeting for a year of the Goat is ‘three goats bring harmony’ (三羊开泰 s开泰onyng k i tti /san yang kigh tigh/). It comes from Taoism. The third month has three yangs (阳 from yin-yang theory), and corresponds to earth-sky (in Eight Trigram theory), meaning harmony. Later the yang (阳) was replaced with the yang (羊) for goat, which sounds the same, giving the saying.

Read more on Popular Chinese New Year Greetings.

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