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Chinese New Year: Tradition and Change

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival (chunjie ) is the start of the lunar year. People try to return to their hometowns/villages for the festivities that last for two weeks and end with the lantern festival (yuanxiao 元宵) on the 15th day of the first month in the lunar year.

The Chinese zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal. The 12 animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. 2018 was the ear of the Dog, and 2019 (starting on 5 February) will thus be the year of the Pig.

In which year are you born? Check out here

The spring festival includes many preparations and rituals. The old traditions are today mostly upheld in the countryside. Since food is central much preparation is put into shopping and preparing different specialities.

Sacrifices are made to the Kitchen God, to Heaven and Earth and to the ancestors. This includes offering food, burning paper money and setting off firecrackers in the home, in temples and in the ancestral halls.

People put up new year couplets (chunlian ) with wishes for the new year outside of the door and new year posters in the house. The posters include traditional symbols such as ‘fat babies’ and ‘fish’ that signify prosperity. But there are also new year posters featuring political leaders such as current party secretary Xi Jinping. The colour red symbolises happiness in China. Many decorations are made on red paper and people often also dress in red during the new year period.

The main event during spring festival is the new year’s dinner (nianfan ) that families eat together on New Year’s Eve (chuxi除夕). Different regions have their own specialities. In north China dumplings is central and many also eat sweet rice cakes (niangao 年糕). Fish symbolises abundance and surplus as the word for fish () is pronounced yú like the word for surplus (). So a common saying, also found on paper cuttings, is ‘surplus year after year (nian, nian you yu 年年有余)’. The character for happiness is also ubiquitous on decorations and on traditional paper cuttings.

The Spring Festival Gala on TV used to be a must see and central entertainment but these days people tend to spend more time on the Internet and social media. Children receive a red envelope (hong bao ) with money (yasui qian 压岁钱) from the elders in the family. But people also give money to friends and these days many send them in ‘digital red envelopes’ via the app WeChat.

Setting of firecrackers is central during spring festival although many cities now try to control it. The firecrackers are set off during rituals and worship and the noise is said to frighten off evil spirits and the monster Nian.



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photos from chinse new year preparations

dog shaped ballon

chinese temple god

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