The Chinese New Year is celebrated according to the Chinese calendar, which is divided into twelve months of 29 or 30 days each. The last month of the year is called Làyuè (腊月).
Spring Festival, which falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month is the most important festival in China and a time for family reunion, like Christmas in the West.
Traditionally, Spring Festival starts in the early days of the 12th month of the lunar calendar and lasts until the middle of the 1st lunar month of the following year. With the modernization of China, some traditional customs are still followed today, but others have fallen by the wayside.
Chinese will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Feb 8, 2016, which is also the Year of the Monkey according to the Chinese zodiac. As we are preparing for the most important festival, let's have a review of the traditional customs that celebrate the Spring Festival.
Preliminary Eve (Chinese: Xiaonián ) is celebrated on the 23rd day of the last month in north China or the 24th in south China. The day marks the beginning of preparation for the new year festivities, and people start to buy food for the big meal on New Year’s Eve. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
Little New Year, which falls the 23rd day of the 12th month in the Lunar calendar, is also known as the Festival of the Kitchen God, the deity who oversees the moral character of each household.
People make sacrifices to the Kitchen Gold on this day. A paper image is burnt dispatching the god's spirit to Heaven to report on the family's conduct over the past year. The Kitchen God is then welcomed back by pasting a new paper image of him beside the stove. (China Daily)
The 24th day of the last month is the traditional cleaning day. Families thoroughly clean their houses together, including dusting the ceiling. This signifies throwing out the old and making space for the new in the year ahead. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
Families undertake thorough house cleaning on the 24th day of the 12th month in the Lunar calendar, sweeping out the old in preparation for the coming year.
According to tradition, ghosts and deities must choose either to return to Heaven or to stay on Earth during the last month of the year. It is believed that to ensure the ghosts and deities' timely departure, people must thoroughly clean both their bodies and their dwellings, down to every last drawer and cupboard. (China Daily)
People turn the mill and make tofu on the 25th day of the 12th month in the Lunar calendar, as legend says the Jade Emperor will descend and taste the soybean curd residue to experience an austere life.
According to Taoist mythology, the Jade Emperor is the Taoist ruler of Heaven and all realms of existence below, including that of Man and Hell. He is one of the most important gods of the Chinese traditional religious pantheon. (China Daily)
The 28th day of the last month is a day to paste Spring Festival couplets, window paper-cuts and New Year pictures. People also make staple for the Chinese New Year. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
After people have cleaned the house and started preparing food, they begin decorating their homes creating an atmosphere of rejoicing and festivity on the 28th day of the 12th month in the Lunar Calendar. Decorations include spring couplets, New Year pictures, posters of door gods and paper-cuts. (China Daily)
The 29th day of the last month, the day before Spring Festival eve, is set aside for worshipping family ancestors. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
On the 29th day of the 12th lunar month people visit the graves of their ancestors to honor their memory. It is said Spring Festival originated in the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC-c. 1100 BC) from the people's sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the end of an old year and the start of a new one. (China Daily)
The last day of the last month is called Spring Festival eve in China. Family members get together and have a big reunion dinner. After the feast, people play games and children set off firecrackers. Everybody stays up late all night to welcome the coming of the new year. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
Chinese people are supposed to stay up the whole night on the 30th day of the 12th month in the Lunar Calendar
In Chinese mythology, a monster called nian would come out to harm people on New Year's Eve, so people get together, staying up and chatting, hoping for a peaceful passage of time. The custom of staying up (Chinese: shou tai sui) symbolizes the warding off of all diseases and disasters and wishing good luck in the New Year.
Chinese people attach great importance to the Spring Festival Eve, when all family members eat dinner together. (China Daily)
New Year's Day is the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, known as Zhengyuè. Family members visit each other and send best wishes for the new year. Younger people visit the homes of elder family members, and seniors give lucky money stuffed in red envelopes to children as new year gift. Nowadays, people tend to greet each other via phones. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
The first day of Chinese New Year, also known as the "day of chicken", officially begins at midnight.
It is traditional to light firecrackers and make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil monster nian.
Most importantly the oldest and most senior members are visited with the visits strengthening family kinship.
Senior members of the family hand out red envelopes containing cash (Chinese: ya sui qian), a form of blessing and to suppress aging and the challenges of the coming year, to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. (China Daily)
In accordance with traditional Chinese culture, on the second day of the Chinese New Year, married daughters will go back to their biological parents' home with their husband. People often warship the God of Fortune. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
On the second day, married daughters usually go back to their own family to visit parents, relatives and close friends. Traditionally, married daughters didn't have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.
Some believe the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats. (China Daily)
According to traditional Chinese culture, people do not go out on the third day of the Chinese New Year. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
On the third day, an old saying goes: "A fat pig at the door", meaning the arrival of good luck and happiness.
Traditionally, the third day is known as "Chigou's Day". Chigou literally means "red dog", an epithet of "the God of Blazing Wrath", and it is considered an unlucky day to have guests or go visiting.
Folklore says the 3rd day is also "rat marriage day" (Chinese: lao shu qu qin), so people often go to bed earlier to give rats time for their wedding. (China Daily)
On the fourth day of the new year, people offer prayers and a simple ceremony to the God of the Kitchen, asking to be provided with ample food in the new year. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
The old saying "three rams bring bliss" is connected with the fourth day, which says that by making a good beginning a happy end comes.
According to folklore, it is also the day to welcome back the Kitchen God. On this day, the Kitchen God would check the household and therefore people should not leave home. (China Daily)
On the fifth day of the Chinese New Year, people welcome the God of Fortune in their homes. People eat dumplings on the day. In the old days, merchants used to open their stores on this day. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
The fifth day is also called the "day of cow". According to Chinese folklore, the first seven days of the 1st lunar month are respectively called "day of chicken", "day of dog", "day of pig", "day of sheep", "day of cow", "day of horse" and "day of man". When creating all living beings on earth, Nu Wa, a goddess in Chinese mythology, created the six creatures before human beings.
The fifth day is also the God of Fortune's birthday and people will celebrate this day with a large banquet. This day is also commonly known as the Festival of Po Wu, literally breaking five. According to custom, it is believed that many New Year taboos can be broken on this day. (China Daily)
On the sixth day, people make wishes for "ma dao cheng gong", win success immediately upon arrival.
According to tradition, families usually send away the Ghost of Poverty on this day. To send away him, Chinese people will usually throw away their ragged clothes, rubbish and other dirty things.
By doing this Chinese people wish to send away poverty and welcome the beautiful days and good luck in the New Year. (China Daily)
The seventh day is commonly referred as the "day of man", and in most parts of China people will eat noodles as they symbolize longevity in Chinese culture. (China Daily)
On the eighth day of the Chinese New Year, people free captive animals. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
The eighth day is believed to be the birthday of millet, an important crop in ancient China.
According to folk proverbs, if this day is bright and clear the year will be a harvest year; however, if this day is cloudy or even rainy, the year will suffer from poor harvest.
Meanwhile, people also set free captive animals on this day, with a blessing for all living beings to flourish in the New Year. (China Daily)
The ninth day is called Ti Kong Dan, or the birthday of the Jade Emperor. There will be grand ceremonies in Taoist temples on this day, and ordinary families also offer sacrifices to the Jade Emperor. (China Daily)
The 10th day is believed to be the birthday of the God of Stone which played a very important role in the agricultural society of ancient China.
On this day, people are forbidden to move any stone, including stone rollers, stone mills and herb grinders, and should not cut into a mountain for rock or build a house with rocks, otherwise bad things will happen to the crops.
People also burn incense and candles for the stones and offer pancake to the God of Stone. (China Daily)
People make offerings to Zi Gu, the guardian angel for weak women, on the 11th day.
This day is also for Yuefu (fathers-in-law) to entertain Nuxu (sons-in-law).
In many areas, after this day, people will start preparing for the upcoming Lantern Festival which is on the 15th day of the 1st month. (China Daily)
In the old days, people used to prepare for the Lantern Festival on the twelfth day of the Chinese New Year. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
Families buy lanterns and build a lantern shack on the 12th day. (China Daily)
On the 13th day, preparations for Lantern Festival continue.
The 14th day is the birthday of the Goddess of Linshui, who is believed to protect women from dying in childbirth. People make offerings to the goddess on this day. (China Daily)
The 15th day of the new year is the Lantern Festival. It marks the last day of the lunar New Year celebration. Traditionally, children visit temples in the evening, carrying paper lanterns, and try to solve riddles written on the lanterns. (Xinhua/Feng Yincheng)
The 15th day of the 1st lunar month is commonly celebrated as Yuan Xiao Jie, or Lantern Festival. The festivities of the Chinese New Year reach a climax on this day.
Since early morning, dragon and lion dancers parade on streets crowded with people. In the evening families go out together to enjoy the full moon and appreciate colorful lanterns and also solve lantern riddles.
Chinese people also eat yuan xiao, a traditional food made of glutinous rice flour which symbolizes family togetherness and reunion.
This day officially marks the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. (China Daily)
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