Chinese Spring Festival, which has been well-known in the western world more or less, is the traditional New Year in Chinese lunar calendar. In Chinese it is called 春节 (chūn jié). People outside of China celebrate this festival as well, like Vietnam, Singapore and other South Asian countries.
The Chinese Spring Festival is on the first day of the first month of Chinese lunar calendar. Similar with the Christmas Eve, there’s also a Spring Festival Eve to be celebrated, called 除夕 (chú xī). The celebration will begin on this eve and last for 15 days, then end on day fifteen of the first month of lunar calendar, on the Lantern Festival (元宵节, yuán xiāo jié).
Yet the holiday of Chinese people will not be that long. Often they will have a week off for the Spring Festival. During their holiday, they will come back home and celebrate the new year with their family. Nevertheless, many Chinese are far away from home for many reasons. Then every year in the period before and after Spring Festival, the transportation, either roads or railways, will be on very heavy burden. It will be extremely hard to get a ticket back home, especially for poor people.
Chinese Spring Festival Rituals and Traditions
In China, the celebration of Spring Festival varies in different provinces. Because China is a multi-ethnic country, however, there are some rite and customs commonly existing over the country.
Like the firecrackers. When the festival comes, you will be impressed by the continuous firecrackers and fireworks wherever you go. The sound of cracks and burst do bring a lively and exultant atmosphere to the festival. What we can say is that not one Chinese Spring Festival is without firecrackers or fireworks.
Fireworks are burst mostly on the Spring Festival Eve and the morning of next day, especially on midnight. For over an hour, you will be surrounded by the bomb sound and beautiful fireworks, and do not know which way to turn your head as sparklers are fired off from all sides.
Another common feature of Chinese Spring Festival is the spring festival scrolls. People will write wishes and good sentences on paper and paste them on the both side of the door. Also pictures of Chinese door-god will be pasted on the door, meanwhile some paper cut will be pasted on windows. They believe the scrolls and picture will keep evil spirits outside of their house, and bring good luck to the family.
Although it is a festival of new year and celebration, Chinese people often worship their dead family members during the festival. They will choose one day to visit family graves, clean and present offerings: food, fake paper money for funeral, incense sticks, some Chinese wine or other stuffs according to the habits of the deceased.
Eve of Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year’s Eve is more like the Christmas Eve. On that eve the whole family will gather together to have a party or a rich meal. The concept of family in China is what we call home. The meal cannot begin until all family members are present.
The festival lasts about two weeks till the Lantern Festival. Many Chinese New Year dinner will take place in this period, with the extended family, with labor relations, friends, and so on. During the meals many toasts will be worn with the traditional phrase “May the new year arrives quickly”, or “Happy New Year”.
The Lucky Money
Spring Festival has always been the most expected holiday for kids. Because they will not only have plenty of fun, but also bunch of red packet, which contains their lucky money. The Spring Festival Eve, and other Chinese New Year meal always start or end with the distribution of the “lucky money”. The money are sealed in the red envelopes which emblem adults’ wishes for kids. Elders will also receive envelopes from youngers.
The Dragon Dance celebrates the Chinese New Year.
Being a typical feature of Chinese Spring Festival, the dragon dance is an important part of celebrating the festival.
Unlike western culture, dragon in Chinese culture does not symbolize evil. On the contrary, dragons are god for Chinese people. It embodies nobility, bravery and luck. That’s why they will have the dragon dance for Spring Festival celebration.
The dragon dance is called “Running or dancing with the Dragon Lantern in hand”, could be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 CE). It is still widely practiced and very popular in nowadays.
The dragon used to dance is usually made with thin strips of bamboo, silk and paper lanterns. It consists of three parts: the head, body and tail. The body of the dragon is divided into several sections according to the length of the dragon, but traditionally in an odd number. A handle is attached under each section for dancers to hold. The head and tail are small but will strongly affect the fluency of the whole dance.
There is a leader of the dancers’ team, who will carry a stick with a ball on one end of the stick. The ball is called dragon ball. When performing dragon dance, the leader will first start to move the ball, then other dancers follow the direction of it. Thus the dragon will looks like flying in the air.
Often the dragon dance is accompanied by the music made with drums, cymbals and gongs. The dance is usually performed by strong men because it requires stamina, strength and skill. Each year, the dragon dance will be performed with firecrackers and fireworks as an essential component of the celebrations for Chinese New Year to express people’s wishes for the new year.