The first day of the first lunar month is regarded as the New Year of the Chinese – the Spring Festival. It is the most important and ceremonious traditional festival in China, just as Christmas Day to the westerners.
During the Spring Festival, every family is busy cleaning house in the hope of getting rid of defilements and preventing diseases. Also, they need to paste door-god, spring festival couplets, and the reversed Chinese character “福” (means blessing),and hang flags in the hope of praying for auspiciousness in the New Year. On the New Year’s Eve, every family enjoys a grand dinner, shoots off firecrackers, plays dragon dance and lion dance, and stays up late or all night. People will pay a New Year call to one another from the first day, and it is not until the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, namely, the Lantern Festival, that the Spring Festival is ended.
On the New Year’s Eve, people work far away from home will manage to come back, regardless of long-distance travel, so the “Grand Dinner on New Year’s Eve” is also called “Family Reunion Dinner”. Whatever the financial condition is, every family will make the dinner the most sumptuous and ceremonious one in the year. Hostesses will fetch out foodstuffs prepared in early time and all family members will sit together and make dumplings in jollification. At twelve o’clock, when a new year drives off the old, every family will shoot off firecrackers to greet new days and send off old ones. Following the New Year’s Eve is the first day of the Spring Festival, a day for paying a New Year call (bainian), during which people will be busy in giving best wishes to one another by saying such auspicious phrases as “Happy New Year” and “May you be prosperous”, etc. In New Year’s days, elders will put some money in a red pocket (yasuiqian) and give it to children as a gift. It is believed that on New Year’s Day attention should be paid to ensure not to break up anything, or else one will miss good fortunes in the whole year, and that sweeping the floor will sweep off wealth and drive away good luck .
Traditional food prepared for the Spring Festival varies with customs in different regions. However, those with auspicious names, meanings or shapes are favored, such as “New Year Cake” (niangao in Chinese, means “higher year”, suggesting better fortune in the new year, and has the shape of gold and silver blocks), dumplings, the shape of which is similar to ingots, suggesting bringing in wealth and treasure, as well as fish symbolizing amassing fortunes.
According to history records, the Spring Festival derives from god and ancestor worships in the Shang dynasty. Nowadays, this superstitious meaning has faded away and is replaced with a symbol of unification, happiness and hope.