The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is China’s largest traditional holiday. Although technically it is the first day of the new lunar calendar year, the festival lasts for a while after it. It is more of a holiday season than one day of a holiday. On the first day of the new year, everyone wears new clothes and new shoes. The younger kids bow down and wish their elders a happy new year and in return, the elders give the children a red envelope with money in it. Friends and family members exchange gifts and wishes of a happy new year. Before the Spring Festival begins, every household frames their door frames with traditional Chinese red paper slips that have happiness wishes written on them. Some places also hang lanterns in their windows. Many places in China also have sweeping and dusting customs. Before the Spring Festival, families will all do a thorough cleaning on their home, sweeping away the dust and symbolically, all the poor luck of the past year, preparing for the New Year to bring good luck.
New Year’s Eve is a night for families to congregate. No matter how far you live from home, you are supposed to travel back for this night. Nobody is supposed to sleep that night and at midnight, households set off firecrackers and eat dumplings. Traditionally, married daughters lived and stayed with the groom’s family and seldom returned home but on the second day of the New Year, she is allowed to return to her family to celebrate for a day. From the first day of the new year to the third day, the garbage in households can not be taken out. This is supposed to be a time of taking in new things and you need to keep your new luck for the new year. Also, adults cannot get mad at and spank children over these three days. Crying is supposed to be reserved for only when someone dies, so adults are supposed to refrain from getting mad at children during this period. Knives are also not supposed to be used, in an effort to keep the holidays peaceful.
The Chinese culture is all about togetherness and family. So, it comes as no surprise that on the biggest traditional holiday, the Spring Festival, one must be with one’s family. My informant grew up in China and the Spring Festival was a time to see all of her family that perhaps didn’t live in the same area as she did. Even when my informant was young and her family was extremely poor, they would always spare a little money to buy new clothes and shoes for the family to wear on the first day of the New Year. This symbolizes a changing of luck in the New Year and represents new beginnings. Around Spring Festival time, there is a lot of red all over China. Red symbolizes prosperity, good luck, and success. Therefore, the red slips of paper are placed around doorframes and red lanterns are hung in windows, to signify that anyone who walks in and out of the door will be blessed with good luck in the New Year. The changing from one year to the next is a liminal state and many Chinese traditions revolve around this time. Dumplings, in the Chinese language, represents togetherness and firecrackers are to celebrate and to alert the heavens and ancestors that it is a New Year and a time of happiness. Not taking the garbage out from the first day after the New Year until the third day is to symbolize keeping whatever the New Year has given you. If you throw garbage out, it would represent throwing away your good luck for the whole year.
For another version of this holiday, view pages 14-28 of this book:
Wei, Liming. Chinese Festivals. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.