Spring Festival, the traditional Chinese New Year's Day, is China's most important national holiday. The date of the new year is still determined by the lunar calendar even though the government of the Republic of China adopted the international Gregorian calendar in 1912. New Year's Day typically occurs sometime in early spring (February), but in 1998 the new year is early, falling on January 28.
Almost everyone in China's cities enjoys at least three days off work to celebrate Spring Festival, and the celebration lasts even longer in rural areas: from the eighth day of the last month of the lunar year to the 15th day of the first month of the following lunar year. Rural residents use this time, following a year's hard work and prior to the spring planting, to rest and relax as the climate in northern China is still quite cold.
The Han people (the majority ethnic group in China, accounting for more than 90 percent of the population) have a tradition of eating laba -- rice porridge with beans, nuts and dried fruit -- on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month. This pastime symbolizes the peasants' wishes for an abundant harvest and healthy animals.
Starting on the 23d day of the 12th lunar month people clean their houses, decorate them with papercuts and streamers, shop for special Spring Festival foods and gifts, and begin preparing the New Year's banquet.
On the day before New Year's Day many families decorate their front door with a pair of couplets designating good fortune. These couplets are written in fine calligraphy on long strips of red paper. The text of the couplets is often taken from famous poems or old sayings, and the sentiments expressed are for happiness, good health, bumper harvests, family harmony and prosperity. Special pictures are placed in different rooms to dispel evil spirits and bring the family tranquility and happiness throughout the coming year.
Children set off firecrackers, play games and carry colorful lanterns in hand as they visit friends. Parents keep busy preparing the New Year's Eve dinner and making jiaozi -- dumplings with meat and vegetable fillings. Dumplings are an indispensable food for northerners during their New Year's celebration. In olden times, jiaozi were thought to scare away evil spirits, misfortune and disease. Today this well-loved dish is as closely associated with Spring Festival as turkey is with Thanksgiving in the United States.
Chinese have been making jiaozi for more than 1,600 years, but the preparation of this delicious food varies by region. One variety is made with fillings of meat, Chinese cabbage or other vegetables, peanut and sesame oils, with ginger, green onion and salt for flavoring. Another variety is filled with eggs and dried shrimp along with Chinese cabbage, Chinese chives and other flavorings.
On New Year's Day people traditionally eat dumplings made with egg and shrimp fillings to encourage a year of peace. Families in some rural areas have a custom of wrapping a small piece of candy or a coin in one of the dumplings. The person who eats this dumpling is considered lucky and will have a happy and prosperous new year. Following dinner, most families watch special holiday variety shows on television, which last well into New Year's Day. Many families stay up very late, some even stay up all night, laying cards, laughing, chatting, or telling stories to the children.
At midnight a barrage of firecrackers breaks the silence and after the cocks crow, every family conducts a New Year's ceremony. Everyone, old and young, dresses in their best before offering sacrifices to their gods and ancestors. The reunion meal in northern China consists of jiaozi. Old and young sit around the dinner table waiting to be served while the women boil the dumplings. If family members cannot join the reunion meal, a pair of chopsticks, a cup of wine and a bowl are laid out for them to symbolize the family's best wishes.
On New Year's Day the children receive gifts of money in red envelopes from their parents and grandparents. But, the most popular celebratory activity is young people expressing wishes of good fortune and health to the family elders. Other children enjoy visiting with friends, neighbors and relatives because they are treated to fruit, pastry and candy while their parents drink tea, wine or beer.
The celebratory climax occurs on the 15th day of the first lunar month during the Lantern Festival. At night lantern shows or lion dances are performed, luring visitors to the fun, whether it's in the city or the countryside.
from China Today