Year 2014, January 20 is the Great Gold (大寒), the last solar date of the year that marks the beginning of the Spring Festival (春节) season. From this day onwards, people across China start preparing for the new lunar year. This year, Spring Festival falls on January 31 but the run-up to New Year's Day is as important than the day itself to many households. If you are celebrating the arrival of the year of the horse with Chinese friends or relatives, we've prepared a description of the most common traditions so that you know what you are in for...
The 23rd day (January 23) of the 12th lunar month is called Preliminary Eve (祭灶君).On this day, people offer a sacrifice to Zaojun (灶君), the kitchen god. The next day, Zaojun returns to heaven and reports to the gods and so the more generous the sacrifice, the more clement shall be his report.
On the following day (January 24) people start hanging New Year decorations in their homes and Duilian (对联), which are lines of poetry, around the front door. By this time, the kitchen is the busiest place in the house with fried snacks and sweets being prepared to welcome the return of Zaojun. Until January 28, families are kept busy with a number of household chores – houses must be cleaned from top to bottom, a tangerine tree purchased and brought into the house, and in south China, people also go to the annual flower markets to buy plants with auspicious names.
On Lunar New Year's Eve, all family members meets for dinner (年夜饭) with nine dishes to symbolize wealth, including an entire fish to represent "completeness." After the meal, traditions differ depending on families. In big cities where firecrackers and fireworks are prohibited, people tend to stay at home and watch TV, whilst in the countryside people are more likely to go out to set-off fireworks and chat with neighbors whilst their children run around with a red lantern and "sell their laziness" (卖懒).
On the second day of the New Year (February 1) married women visit their parents with their husband and children (回娘家). On the third day, families tend to stay at home as quarrels are thought to easily arise on this day (赤口). The fifth day of the Spring Festival is a much more auspicious day as it marks the return of the God of Wealth (接财神). The seventh is considered everybody's birthday (人日) yet few people have time to worry about getting old as most Chinese return to work on the eighth (启市), "eight" being a lucky number for commerce.
If a member of a family has given birth to a boy in the past 100 days, they are expected to hang a red lantern in front of their house and prepare a large dinner in their ancestral temple on the tenth of the New Year. Nowadays, people tend to invite their relatives to a restaurant instead.
The Lantern Festival (元宵节) falls on the 15th (February 14) and it marks the end of the Spring Festival season. On that day, people eat Tangyuan (汤圆), a dessert made of sweet glutinous rice.
(By Jessie Huang, David Keyton)