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Spring Festival

An Introduction to Spring Festival

Spring Festival is on January 1st, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. It is usually called as Yinlinian. This is the most important festival in China. It stems from Yin Dynasty and Shang Dynasty. It is celebrated by Chinese people both at home and abroad. When Spring Festival comes, spring comes as well. Everything comes to life and plants are prosperous. Just having experienced a cold winter, people are so excited to welcome a new spring.

Spring Festival is a festival with a lot of happiness. No matter how far people stay away, they are eager to go home and stay together with their families on this special festival. The warm atmosphere is not only in the houses, but also in the streets. In many places, lion dances and dragon lantern show are performed during Spring Festival. In some places, people kept the customs of Shehuo performance, visiting flower market, going to the temple fair. During this period, the cities are full of lanterns and the streets are crowded with people. Activities last to the 15th of January; this can be an end of Spring Festival.

The origin of Spring Festival
Spring Festival is also called Guo Nian in Chinese. Guo means pass over and the Nian or "Year" in Chinese refers to a mythical beast that will bring bad luck.

One legend goes that the beast Nian had a very big mouth that would swallow a great many people with one bite. People were very scared. One day, an old man came to their rescue, offering to subdue Nian. To Nian he said, "I hear say that you are very capable, but can you swallow the other beasts of prey on earth instead of people who are by no means of your worthy opponents?" So, it did swallow many of the beasts of prey on earth that also harassed people and their domestic animals from time to time.

After that, the old man disappeared riding the beast Nian. He turned out to be an immortal god. Now that Nian is gone and other beasts of prey are also scared into forests, people begin to enjoy their peaceful life. Before the old man left, he had told people to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year's end to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, because red is the color the beast feared the most.

From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian is carried on from generation to generation. The term "Guo Nian", which may mean "Survive the Nian" becomes today "Celebrate the (New) Year" as the word "guo" in Chinese having both the meaning of "pass-over" and "observe". The custom of putting up red paper and firing fire-crackers to scare away Nian should it have a chance to run loose is still around. However, people today have long forgotten why they are doing all this, except that they feel the color and the sound add to the excitement of the celebration.

How do Chinese people celebrate the Spring Festival? Spring Festival is a time for celebrating with family and friends. No matter wherever, how busy they are, the Chinese will squeeze into the roads going home to spend the festival season with their family members. Traditionally, the Chinese celebrate the Spring Festival in the following ways:

Spring Cleaning
From December 23rd in the Chinese calendar, people begin to clean their houses. The dust is traditionally associated with “old” so cleaning their houses and sweeping the dust mean to bid farewell to the “old” and usher in the “new”. So at that day people clean the house to bid farewell to the old year and usher in a happy and fresh new year.

Spring Decorating
People hang flower-decorated red lanterns in front of their houses. Office buildings and stores are also decorated with red lanterns. Red couplets-red posters with black Chinese calligraphy, colored New Year paintings are posted on the doors of people’s houses. They symbolize happiness, prosperity and good luck in the New Year.

Originating during the Song dynasty and continuing through the Ming dynasty, creating spring couplets is a special literary form characterized by concise, ingenious sentences to express people's wishes. A few days before the Spring Festival, people paste red scrolls with complementary poetic couplets with one line on each side of the gate to add festive atmosphere.

Pasting the Chinese Character 'Fu' is also a popular custom. Because 'Fu' in Chinese means 'Good Luck' or 'Happiness', by pasting this character on the center of the door, people show great hope to be happy. Most people like to paste it backward, for this means 'Fu' has come.

Staying up late ("Shousui")
Shousui means to stay up late or all night on New Year's Eve. After the great dinner, families sit together and chat happily to wait for the New Year’s arrival.

New Year's Feast
Spring Festival is a time for family reunion. The New Year's Feast is "a must" banquet with all the family members getting together. People from north and south have different sayings about the food they eat on this special day. Southern Chinese eat "niangao" (New Year cake made of glutinous rice flour) on this occasion, because as a homophone, niangao means "higher and higher every year". In northern China, a traditional dish for the feast is "Jiaozi" or dumplings. Because its shape resembles the Chinese Yuanbao (a kind of money used in ancient times), eating dumplings means wealth in the coming year.

Lighting Firecrackers
Lighting Firecrackers used to be one of the most important customs in the Spring Festival celebration. But concerning the danger and the negative noises that lighting firecrackers may bring the government has banned this activity in many major cities. But people in small towns and rural areas still hold to this traditional celebration. Right as the clock strike 12 o'clock midnight of New Year's Eve, cities and towns are lit up with the glitter from fireworks, and the sound can be deafening. Families stay up for this joyful moment.

Luck Money
It is the money given to kids from their parents and grandparents as New Year gift. The money which put the money in red envelopes is believed to bring good luck, ward off monsters; hence the name "lucky money". Parents and grandparents first put money in small, especially made red envelope and give to their kids after the New Year's Feast. It is one of the kids’ favorite things in Spring Festival. 

New Year Greetings
On the first day of the Spring Festival, everybody wears new clothes and greets relatives and friends with bows and Gongxi (congratulations), wishing each other good luck, happiness during the New Year.

Some tips on traveling China during Spring Festival 
1.  Public transportation is very crowded especially the trains. Try to avoid travelling by rail if at all possible.
2. Arrange your itinerary beforehand, and make reservations for Flights and Hotels in advance.
3. Collect as much information on Chinese New Year celebrations in the city you are going to stay, such as firework shows, temple fairs and other celebrative activities for the locals.
4. Learn enough about cultures of Chinese New Year, and get familiar about what Chinese locals will do during the festival.
5. Chinese New Year usually comes on the coldest days of the year in China, so you should bring enough warm clothes.
6. It is a great opportunity to observe the local customs locals when you travel in china during the Spring Festival. You will be able to see authentic celebrations such as fireworks Dragon Dancing, Lion Dancing, NiuYangge (traditional dance in northern China) and other interesting celebrations.

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