Traditionally, the constant changes in the shape of the moon were a sign of the passage of time for the Chinese people. The cold and warm weather, the growth and ripening of crops led to the observation of months and years. As the season of rebirth, both for the earth and the people living off its fruits, spring has been the most awaited of them all. Its arrival, announced by the second new moon after the winter solstice, has marked the beginning of the new cycle of nature, meaning also the new year.
However, the ultimate springtime celebration is preceded by long time of preparation, as the favor of Heaven must be granted in advance. Because of that, as early as a week before the New Year, the Chinese people prepare sweet treats, in order to endear themselves to the Kitchen God, responsible for reporting the family’s deeds of the year to the Supreme Deity.
As the festival approaches, the main focus remains on attracting good fortune. The air-piercing sound of firecrackers can be heard on streets and corners. They are being set off everywhere in order to protect against evil spirits and ghosts. For the same reason, pictures of threshold guardians are posted on the house entrances. Besides, the nine-character spring couplets with verses that express good wishes are pasted on the sides of the door, along with the 福 character, meaning ‘fortune’, in the middle. The auspicious red color, used in various kinds of decorations, is seen everywhere around.
On the New Year’s Eve, the Kitchen God returns to his special place just above the family stove for another twelve months of service. Together with him, family members from all parts of the country take flight, train and bus in order to come back home in time for the reunion. The festive evening begins with the ceremony in honor of the ancestors, led by the eldest member of the family. After that, all of the relatives could sit together around the table and enjoy the variety of delicious meals prepared for the occasion. Among them, one of the essential dishes is fish, as its pronunciation is similar to the word for ‘surplus’ in the Chinese language. The feast is followed by the distribution of red envelopes filled with money, preferably many 100 yuan banknotes, to the youngsters. Although nowadays the paper packets are being gradually replaced by the WeChat transfers, the tradition itself is vibrant like never before, as the new technology helps breaking the barriers of time and space. In order to keep up the custom of staying up late for the New Year, the Chinese people spend the rest of the night enjoying the Spring Festival Gala broadcasted by the state television CCTV, which is the world’s most watched TV show with audience exceeding 1 billion viewers.
The Spring Festival is the day of the continuation of feasting with the family. When all of the prepared food is eaten, it is time to go outdoors. During the next few days, public performances of the lion dance are being held, both in villages and cities. As such events attract large audience, they are a great opportunity to meet neighbors or friends and pay them a visit. The New Year period marks its end on the day of the first full moon in the Chinese lunar calendar, celebrated as the Lantern Festival.
Author: Paweł Bedla
Huang Shaorong, Chinese Traditional Festivals, Journal of Popular Culture 1991, 25(3).
Liao Yan, Food and Festivals of China, Mason Crest Publishers, Broomall 2006.