Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How the Chinese Celebrate the Chinese New Year (Part One of Two)

With Chinese New Year just two days away, activities for preparation are over and people are getting ready for the celebrations to start. Some people have already begun their celebrations, attending various parades and festivals this past weekend. Families have spent the last few weeks preparing for a reason, the Chinese New Year is not just one day, but a whole 16 days worth of celebrating. Also referred to as the Spring Festival, this holiday is the most widely celebrated holiday in China, as well as one of the most important traditions in the Chinese culture. Preparing included activities such as cleaning, shopping, getting a haircut, and more- but all of those should be finished by now as the people get ready for the festival’s arrival.

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If anyone still has some sweeping left to do, they’d better get on it! An important Chinese New Year’s tradition is a type of cleaning Chinese people call “sweeping the dust”, which is a symbol of bidding the old year farewell and making room for the New Year to bring good luck into the home. However, sweeping or any sort of cleaning is strongly advised against during the first two days of the New Year because it is believed to sweep away the good luck that the New Year brings. 
Now that the house has been cleaned and all the necessary items have been bought, it is time to decorate the house. Putting up New Year decorations and preparing the house for the holiday is something most families typically do the night before the New Year. Houses are decorated with red lanterns, red couplets, New Year paintings, and images of goats or sheep since this 2015 is the Year of the Sheep. Another important custom typically done on New Year’s Eve is to paste a “door god” image on to the front door. Although the “door gods” were originally made of carved peach wood, nowadays most people just paste printed images. These images are a prayer for health, peace, and longevity. Two door gods are thought to ward off evil spirits and keep them from entering the home. The door gods are always scowling and holding weapons to intimidate evil spirits and display power. 

The New Year’s paintings serve a different purpose. The paintings are put up to create a joyful and prosperous environment in the home. The subjects of the paintings are typically positive, happy ones including birds, flowers, ripe fruit, legends, treasure and more. 

And now that the home has been decorated and all the necessary items to bring in good luck and fortune have been put up, it is time for the New Year’s Eve dinner. Having a big feast with the family is seen as a critical aspect of the New Year’s celebration and most people try their hardest to make sure they are present. The food served on this special night varies depending on which region of China you’re in. In northern China, the traditional food for New Years Eve is dumplings shaped like a half moon. In southern China, they consume niangao, a cake made of rice flour, as their traditional dish. 

Since the family is all together for this wonderful dinner, parents and grandparents use this time to give the red envelopes filled with lucky money to the children. The gift symbolizes the parents’ wish for their children to stay healthy and grow a lot during the upcoming year. 

Much like New Year’s Eve in the United States, in China families stay up till at least midnight to witness the beginning of the New Year and hear the traditional midnight bells begin to ring. 

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