The Chinese Spring Festival, also known as Lunar New Year, has more than 4,000 years of history. As one of the traditional Chinese festivals, it is the grandest and most important festival. It is also a time when families get together to celebrate, a practice similar to Christmas celebration in the West.
Originating during the Shang Dynasty (about 17th – 11th century BC), Spring Festival, is full of rich and colorful activities signifying the arrival of spring and blossoming flowers. People from different regions and different ethnic groups celebrate it in unique ways.
It falls on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar and lasts for almost half of the month. In folk custom, this traditional holiday lasts from the 23rd day of the twelfth month to the 15th day of the first month (Lantern Festival). On these days, New Year’s Eve and the first day of the New Year are the peak times.
According to lore, the custom of the Spring Festival began when people offered sacrifices to ancestors in the last month of the Chinese lunar calendar. At the time, people prepared the sacrifice by engaging in thorough cleaning, bathing and other purifications activities.
However, the sacrificial period changed according to the farming schedule and was not fixed until the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). Although the ceremonies are no longer as grand, the practice of worshipping deities and ancestors endures.
Customs and Practices
To prepare for the festival, every family engages in thorough house cleaning and purchases enough food, including fish, meat, roasted nuts and seeds, all kinds of candies and fruits, for the festival period. Additionally, families buy new clothes, especially for young children. Red scrolls with complementary poetic couplets – one line on each side of the gate – are pasted at every gate. The Chinese character ‘Fu’ is pasted on the center of the door and paper-cut pictures adorn windows.
Dumplings at the family reunion dinner are practically indispensable during the festival. Cold and hot dishes are also served. Fish, which is always an important dish because it embodies people’s hope of having a wealthy, prosperous year, is usually served.