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Culture note: Chinese new year: ‘the Spring festival’ (part I)


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:))) Since Chinese New Year is around the corner now, and it is this blog’s first Chinese new year, let’s talk about this important Chinese festival, its traditions and customs.

According to Chinese history, the celebration of Chinese new year started during the Xia dynasty, over 4000 years ago.

The main celebration is on the first day of the new year in Chinese calendar, which is different every year according to Western calendar. In any case, it is always sometime in January or February.

The Chinese New Year festival is called ‘Chun Jie’ in Chinese, which means ‘Spring festival’. It is the most important festival in China. It formally lasts 5 days; however, the whole first month of the year in the Chinese calendar is quite important, and there are many traditions and customs.

Although Chinese new year is celebrated in many countries in far east Asia, different cultures have slightly different customs, even within China, different regions and different ethnic groups have different celebrations. So here I am mainly talking about the celebration in Northeast China, where I am originally from.

As I said in my previous culture note ‘little Chinese new year’, the first celebration of Chinese new year starts 7 days prior to the actual new year day. From ‘little new year’ to the actual new year day, people are normally busy with preparations. Apart from stocking up food for the actual celebration meals, it is also important to prepare enough ‘snacks’, which normally include different kinds of nuts, sweets, small cakes and fruits. These ‘snacks’ are normally presented on the coffee table ( for example), whole day long, for guests to sit down, chat and eat. (During new year time, there are many friends and relatives come to visit to say happy new year.) It is a tradition to offer them ‘festival..ish’ snacks.

Also people tend to buy new clothes, wearing new clothes on the new year day is very important, since ‘new year has a new start’, it is especially important for kids. Another important thing to do is to clean the house throughout. Sounds strange? But it is true. My mom is always very busy these a few days before new year, she would wash everything, even things that are not used much, and are clean already, from the curtains to duvet, anything can be cleaned, you name it; and she would clean all the dusts away, from the ceiling to the windows, and to behind the furnitures, it doesn’t matter if she cleans many of these places everyday already. She always says we should never leave any dust for the next year, it is bad luck, means you are going to have overloaded work to do.

As you know, in China there is ’12-animal-year’ count. Every 12 years is circle. So when people reach 12, 24, 36, and so on, we call it ‘their own fate year’ (Ben ming nian). Normally when you reach this year, you are advised to wear something red, like red underwear, or red belt to give you good luck.

This year is particularly important — dragon year. Dragon in China is a symbol of authority, wealth, luck and success. For example, in the past, the clothes of the emperors always had dragon patterns on them, and only emperors could wear or use dragon motives. In Chinese, there is a saying ‘all the Chinese are the offsprings of a dragon’. So you can imagine how important dragon is in Chinese culture, and you can imagine how crazy people can be for this dragon year 2012.

Not only that, this year, the dragon is black — a black dragon year, (I don’t know how it is calculated), which only comes around every 60 years, even more powerful than ‘normal dragons’. :)) So people are making lots of wishes for this year, having even more celebrations.

(To be continued)

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