In China the biggest festival of the year is the New Year, also called spring festival 春节chūnjié in Chinese. You may be asking why they celebrate the New Year in late January or early February and not at the beginning of January like most of the world. The reason for that is the lunar calendar.
The Lunar Calendar
Before China started to use the Gregorian calendar they had their own system, which followed the moon but even to this day China’s festivals are still celebrated according to the lunar calendar. Many people in China even celebrate their lunar birthday instead of the Gregorian calendar birth date, which can actually be found on their ID cards.
This can be confusing for people from other countries, as the lunar calendar varies from our calendar by a few weeks, hence the dates change every year.
The Chinese New Year starts on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar, which this year is on the 31st of January. Usually it is celebrated for one week, but as most people will go to their hometown, they will usually stay away for two weeks, sometimes even longer. This leads to a mass of people travelling through the whole country with crowded trains, buses and planes. The ticket prices rise tremendously just before and after this period so it is not advised to go on a journey at that time. However during the first few days of the actually holiday period tickets are very cheap and it’s not as busy as everybody is already home with their families.
Customs and Traditions
Just before the holiday you will see people buying new clothes and getting new haircuts. Everybody wants to look good for the New Year. As red is the lucky colour, the people who were born in the year of the same zodiac animal, will buy red underwear and wear it on the first day of the New Year.
People will also clean their homes and put red banners with 春联chūnlián, couplets, at their front doors wishing for good luck and a prosperous new year. They are put up vertically one on the left, one on the right and one horizontally on the top of the door
There are many other decorations as well, usually red lanterns, paper cuts or posters of the character 福fú meaning ‘good fortune’ and the zodiac animal of the year. You can often see the picture of fú hanging upside down, so that the luck will pour down on you.
Another traditional decoration is fish, the reason for this is the saying 年年有余，天天有鱼 niánnián yǒu yú, tiāntiān yǒu yú, which translates into ‘Have abundance year after year, have fish every day’. As the words for abundance and fish have the same sound (yú), Chinese people use fish as a symbol for abundance. That is also why Chinese will have fish in every New Year’s meal.
There is one red thing everyone anticipates, it’s the red envelope 红包 hóngbāo. It’s the typical New Year present filled with money from family or close family friends and is usually given to the children. Most companies will also give out a New Year’s bonus in a hóngbāo to their employees.
Family is the most important during the Chinese New Year. As many people work in a different place than their hometown for most people it’s the only chance in the year when the whole family will get together. During the holiday there will be plenty of lunches and dinners with family, extended family, friends and neighbours. It’s a very lively time and the atmosphere is bustling with excitement.
Of course you cannot miss out on the firecrackers and fireworks, that is what the Chinese invented gunpowder for (not for guns ;-P). The noise of the exploding crackers is supposed to drive evil and ghosts away, so that there will be a happy and peaceful start into the New Year.
After filling their stomachs and letting off a huge amount of firecrackers most families will spend a calm New Year’s eve in front of the TV watching the New Year’s Gala 春节联欢晚会chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì, a four hour or longer programme with singing, dancing, comedy and magical performances from the different ethnic groups all over the country.
Before the actual holiday many Chinese New Year events and parties will take place, just like companies in western countries will have their Christmas party. There you can also see traditional performances such as the dragon dance.
Do you want to experience a Chinese New Year celebration yourself? Apply for an internship and do a homestay to have an authentic Chinese New Year with a Chinese family!
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, those of us who live in China got to enjoy three days off for the public holiday commemorating the “Dragon Boat Festival”. For many Chinese people, this meant having the chance to travel back to their hometowns to visit their families. For others, it meant the opportunity to stay at home and relax for a few days before going back to their hectic schedules. For us at InternChina and many of our interns it meant: road trip!
But… what exactly is the Dragon Boat Festival and why is it celebrated in China? Most of us foreigners have never heard of this holiday before, and even those who have lived here for a few years know very little about it, other than that it has a cool name and it means not having to work for three days.
The name in Mandarin for Dragon Boat Festival is “Duanwu Jie”, and in Cantonese it is “Tuen Ng”. As it happens, it is not only celebrated in China but also in many other East- and Southeast Asian regions, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.
While in 2013, for example, the festival occurred on the 12th of June (and we also had the 10th and 11th off), there is no set date for the holiday on the Gregorian calendar, which is the one used in western countries. Rather, it is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, falling on the 5th day of the 5th month, which is usually at the end of May or beginning of June.
There is no consensus regarding its origins, and there are numerous legends which, depending on the region, are said to be the source of the festival. The most popular story, however, revolves around Qu Yuan, considered by some to be China’s first highly renowned poet. During the Warring States period, he was exiled from the State of Chu – of which he was minister – for opposing the ruling aristocracy in an effort to protect Chu against the Qin State. When the Qin invaded the capital, he committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month.
Wanting to pay their respects to Qu Yuan, the people of Chu set their boats on the river and threw zongzi – glutinous or “sticky” rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves – into the water to feed the fish and keep them from attacking his body. This is said to be the origin of the dragon-boat-racing and zongzi-eating traditions that customarily occur on this day. Other customs of this holiday include drinking realgar wine and tying perfume pouches to children’s clothing as well as, of course, the mandatory firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.
Dragon Boat Festival Today
An interesting fact about Dragon Boat Festival is that, despite being a culturally important holiday celebrated widely across China, it was not recognised as a public holiday by the Chinese government until 2005. For many young Chinese, this meant properly celebrating the festival for the first time; for the older generations, it meant a long-overdue recognition of the importance of preserving Chinese traditions and culture in a rapidly-changing, globalised world.
Last sunday, Amber’s parents invited Hanna, Lisa, Jack and me to their place to celebrate the Chinese New Year, it was a very nice and relaxed day.
In the Chinese tradition you don’t need to finish dishes, and it’s a sign of respect for your host if you leave some food in your plate. So Amber’s mother cooked us many excellent dishes and the starters would already have been enough, we spent most part of the afternoon eating (and drinking!).
In the late afternoon, Amber’s father taught us how to make our own Jiaozi (Chinese Raviolis), with meat and vegetables. We all had to try to do at least one, I am of course a natural, Hanna and Lisa were not bad as well but Jack somehow managed to elope this tricky task. After making them we ate them (again eating…), so that evening we were not hungry at all!
In the evening we met most of our interns, and we went to the 4th May square to light fireworks together. Since not everyone is staying in a host family and lighting fireworks is part of the tradition when celebrating New Year, we thought that it would be fun to make everyone at least buy something and light it up together. The Chinese people around us had a lot of fun as well watching foreigners lighting little tanks and rainbow fireworks, as well as big fat firecrackers.
For me it was the first time that I celebrate Chinese New Year, when I arrived I thought that there will be some parade or things like this in the streets.
But not at all, it’s the exact opposite, it’s a familial celebration, Chinese people are visiting their relatives and Qingdao was very calm during the whole week, most shops and restaurants were closed and almost no-one was on the streets…Except for millions of fireworks which seemed to be exploding everywhere all day and night!
Now, I will tell you something about the Spring Festival I know and grew up with, and how to celebrate Spring Festival in my family. The blog is a long one, please be patient~~^_^
•The origin of Spring Festival
It’s said that “Nian 年” was a horrific monster in ancient China. It always destroyed everything and even hurt people. People found out, that the monster was afraid of the red cloth people put on their doors, so it has become a tradition to have something red (Spring Festival couplets and Fu character 福) on the doors and walls. Nian is also afraid of fireworks and firecrackers, that’s why Chinese people love to make a lot of noise during the Spring Festival time.
•The importance of Spring Festival in China
Spring Festival is the most important festival during the whole year, almost everyone goes back home to celebrate Spring Festival with their family, even people who work in Hainan Province and their hometown is in Heilongjiang Province go back home (Hainan is in the southwest of China, Heilongjiang Province is in the northeast of China).
The traffic during the whole month is horrible, it’s difficult to get a ticket to go back home (because everyone wants to go back home), if you get a ticket, you are lucky, but if you take a train to somewhere, you will find sometimes you can’t get a place and you will have to stand on the train. We call it “Chun1yun4 春运”, it is a word we use to describe the passenger transport during the period of Spring Festival.
•Prepare for Spring Festival
-“La Yue” ”腊(la4)月(yue4)”
“La Yue” is the last month on Chinese lunar calendar in one year. When “La Yue” starts, Chinese people start to prepare everything for the Spring Festival.
The Spring Festival is only one day on a calendar, but for Chinese people, it isn’t only one day, it always refers to the whole Spring Festival period.
– Cleaning: Chinese people clean the house everywhere; wash all the window curtains, bed sheets and dirty clothes before Spring Festival.
– Buy enough food for the whole month: Including all kinds of meat, vegetables, fruits, snacks, nuts, sweets and “mantou 馒头” (Chinese bread). If you are in China now, you will find that the traffic jam is worse on the weekends than weekdays, there are so many people in supermarkets and shopping malls, you may believe everything is for free! (Because everyone buys a lot of stuff!)
– Wear new clothes: On Spring Festival, people wear new clothes, even underwear and socks are all new. As mentioned in the blog written by my charming colleague Sunny “people will wear red coloured underwear and socks as if the coming year would be their year. By the way, the next year is the year of the snake！”
When I was a child, I was always very happy to wear new clothes on Spring Festival, I would keep the new clothes my mother bought for me in winter to wear until the Spring Festival. But now, I don’t mind if I wear new clothes on Spring Festival, because I have grown up and I can buy new clothes anytime I want.
•Spring Festival Eve
There is a tradition that the family makes sacrifices to forefathers of the family during the period of the Spring Festival. It’s very solemn. Prepare a table with incense, candles, some dishes, fruits and cakes.
In my family, if we decide to make sacrifices, we will prepare it very carefully, because it displays the respect we have for our family ancestors.
-“Dinner on Spring Festival Eve”,”年(nian2)夜(ye4)饭(fan4)”
On the Spring Festival Eve, all family members get together cooking, making dumplings, watching TV (more than 99.99% families in China watch the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV). The dinner on Spring Festival Eve is the most important meal in one year for every family. Some families also put several coins (washed with boiling water) into dumplings, if you eat a dumpling with a coin, it means you will be lucky and will make more money in the new year!
My mom always prepares at least 10 dishes for the dinner every year, even though there are only us three(my parents and me) celebrating together on the eve. After dinner, we will eat dumplings at midnight. When the dumplings are cooked, we will set off firecrackers at the same moment.
Children are all very happy during the period of Spring Festival, because they can get red envelopes from older family members on Spring Festival, they all become “rich men”!
I got red envelopes from my parents, grandparents and some other elder family members every year until I graduated from college. I will give red envelopes to my nephews from this Spring Festival on…
•“Happy Spring Festival”,”拜(bai4)年(nian2)”
Say “Guo4 nian2 hao3”(it means happy Chinese new year) with fist and palm salute to people you know or you don’t know but you want to ask for help if you stay in China during the period of the Spring Festival, they will be very happy. People will visit each other to say “guo4 nian2 hao3” to wish each other good luck and make more money in the new year!
•“Going back to mother’s home”,”回(hui2)娘(niang2)家(jia1)”
It’s a tradition in China that the daughters who have married could not celebrate the Spring Festival with their own parents, they celebrate the Spring Festival with their husband’s family. So the second day (in some areas in China, it is the first day) after Spring Festival is the date for the daughters who have married to back home to celebrate with their own parents, also with husbands and kids, they always take a lot of gifts. And the parents of the daughters will entertain them as well. But now, because most of Chinese families have only one child, people don’t mind to celebrate with other families and friends.
Although my mom goes to visit my grandmother every two days, she prepares a lot of gifts for my grandmother on this day as well. My grandmother also gets up early in the morning to prepare the dinner for us.
•How Chinese people spend Spring Festival holiday
We get a 7-days holiday during the Spring Festival. Do you want to know how Chinese people spend their holidays? Most of families celebrate together at home and meet friends, some people go out to travel with families, normally, people in north China prefer to travel to some warm places, because the winter is cold, they want to enjoy the holiday with only wearing a T-shirt.
I meet some friends and go shopping during the holiday, because there’s a big discount after Spring Festival! I am always busy during the holiday, there are too many friends and relatives to meet, too many things I want to do.