Chinese Language Blog

Spring Festival – Part Two Posted by on Feb 4, 2011 in Culture

Now that we’ve learned some of the history of the Spring Festival, let’s focus more on the customs and traditions that go along with this holiday. In the days leading up to the official New Year celebration, there are many things to do. Many of the modern day preparations for Chinese New Year can also be traced back to an ancient myth…

The Kitchen God

In Chinese mythology, there is a Kitchen God (灶君 – Zào Jūn – lit. “stove master”) who protects the home and the family. As the story goes, on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, just before the Spring Festival, Zao Jun returns to heaven to report back to the Jade Emperor (玉皇 – yù huáng) about the activities of every household. After seeing Zao’s report, the Emperor will either reward or punish a family, based on what he has heard. In order to have a positive report passed on to the Jade Emperor, families will do many things.

To begin with, it is important to clean the house (打扫房子 – dǎ sǎo fáng zi) inside and out. In addition to pleasing Zao Jun, it is believed that this sweeps away bad luck from the past year, and prepares the home for the good luck of the new year. Also, people will decorate their homes and their front doors with all sorts of red decorations and the particular animal that represents the coming year. Before the New Year (which started on Feb. 3 for the record), the old decorations are taken down and new ones are put up, where they will stay for the duration of the year. Also, for the new year, everything must be new – new clothes, new shoes, and a new haircut.

New Year’s Eve

On New Year’s Eve (除夕 – chú xì), families will gather together to have a huge dinner (年夜饭 – nián yè fàn). Many

families will eat fish (鱼 – yú) for this meal, as it is believed that this will help your wishes for the new year come true. There is even a Chinese idiom that goes, “Every year there are leftovers” (年年有餘 – nián nián yǒu yú). This is a play on words, as 餘 (extra, leftover) and 鱼 (fish) have the same pronuncation.  In the northern part of China, most people will eat dumplings (饺子 – jiǎo zi), which are symbols of wealth as the represent ancient Chinese currency. Some will even add a few coins into a few of the dumplings, and whoever ends up eating those will enjoy great luck and prosperity in the new year. Down south, people will cook up a special New Year cake (年糕 – nián gāo), made of gluttinous rice flour. This is another play on words, as it can also mean “a more prosperous year.”

Another famous tradition for Chinese New Year is the lighting off of firecrackers (放鞭炮 – fàng biān pào). As I mentioned in Part One, it is believed that doing so helps keep the evil Nian beast away, as well as other evil spirits in general. Around Spring Festival, it is not uncommon to hear firecrackers going off all day long, and on New Year’s Eve, it seems as if they never stop.

Some of the New Year’s Eve traditions and the vocabulary that goes along with them.

Finally, a more modern day New Year’s Eve tradition is gathering with family to watch the CCTV New Year’s Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会 – Zhōng guó zhōng yāng diàn shì tái chūn jié lián huān wǎn huì). The program is an elaborate production, and it features many different parts. There are skits (小品 – xiǎo pǐn), which focus on comedy. Then, there is crosstalk (相声 – xiàng sheng), which is sort of like stand-up comedy. Rounding out the event are song and dance (歌舞 – gē wǔ), acrobatics (杂技 – zá jì), and magic tricks (魔术 – mó shù).

The opening of last year’s CCTV New Year’s Gala.

In the next post, we’ll talk about some of the traditions for the start of the New Year. For now, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! 新年快乐!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.

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