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Spring Festival
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

altJust as important as Christmas for the westerners, Spring Festival (chūn jié 春节) is the most important festival for the Chinese people, when all family members get together, no matter how far away they live from home. It makes the transportation systems the busiest in one year, which usually lasts for about half a month. During this period, airports, railway stations and long-distance bus stations are crowded with home returnees.

The Spring Festival falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month, often one month later than the Gregorian calendar. It originated in the Shang Dynasty (shāng cháo 商朝, 1600 BC-1100 BC) from the people's sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one.

Strictly speaking, the Spring Festival starts every year in the early days of the 12th lunar month and will last till the mid 1st lunar month of the next year. Of them, the most important days are Spring Festival Eve (chú xī 除夕) and the first three days. The Chinese government now stipulates people have seven days off for the Chinese Lunar New Year.

People attach great importance to Spring Festival Eve. At that time, all family members eat dinner together. The meal is more luxurious than usual. Dishes such as chicken, fish and bean curd cannot be excluded, because in Chinese, their pronunciations, respectively "ji"(jī 鸡), "yu"(yú 鱼) and "doufu"(dòu fu 豆腐), mean auspiciousness, abundance and richness. After the dinner, the whole family will sit together, chatting and watching TV. In recent years, the Spring Festival party broadcasting on China Central Television Station (CCTV) is the essential entertainment for the Chinese both at home and abroad.  Each family will stay up to see the New Year in, which is a custom in China.

JiaoziWaking up on New Year, everybody dresses up. First they extend greetings to their parents. Then each child will get  money as a New Year gift, wrapped up in red paper. People in northern China will eat jiaozi (jiǎo zi 饺子), or dumplings, for breakfast, as they think "jiaozi" in sound means "bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new". Also, the shape of the dumpling is like gold ingot from ancient China. So people eat them and wish for money and treasure.

NiangaoSouthern Chinese eat niangao (nián gāo 年糕, New Year cake made of glutinous rice flour) on this occasion, because as a homophone, niangao means "higher and higher, one year after another"(nián nián gāo shēng 年年高升), The first five days after the Spring Festival are a good time for relatives, friends, and classmates as well as colleagues to exchange greetings, gifts and chat leisurely.

Lion DancingBurning fireworks was once the most typical custom on the Spring Festival. People thought the spluttering sound could help drive away evil spirits. However, such an activity was completely or partially forbidden in big cities once the government took security, noise and pollution factors into consideration. As a replacement, some buy tapes with firecracker sounds to listen to, some break little balloons to get the sound too, while others buy firecracker handicrafts to hang in the living room.

Dragon Lantern DancingThe lively atmosphere not only fills every household, but permeates to streets and lanes. A series of activities such as lion dancing (wǔ shī 舞狮), dragon lantern dancing (wǔ lóng dēng 舞龙灯), lantern festivals (dēng huì 灯会) and temple fairs (miào huì 庙会) will be held for days. The Spring Festival then comes to an end when the Lantern Festival is finished.
There are 56 ethnic groups in China, some of them celebrate Spring Festival almost the same day as the Han people. However, each minority has different customs.


Lantern Festival      春节,是农历正月初一,又叫农历年,俗称“过年”。这是我国民间最隆重、最热闹的一个传统节日。春节的历史很悠久,它起源于殷商时期年头岁尾的祭神祭祖活动。按照我国农历,正月初一古称元日、元辰、元正、元朔、元旦等,俗称年初一,到了民国时期,改用公历,公历的一月一日称为元旦,把农历的一月一日叫春节。

      春节到了,意味着春天将要来临,万象复苏草木更新,新一轮播种和收获季节又要开始。人们刚刚度过冰天雪地草木凋零的漫漫寒冬,早就盼望着春暖花开的日子,当新春到来之际,自然要充满喜悦载歌载舞地迎接这个节日。 千百年来,人们使年俗庆祝活动变得异常丰富多彩,每年从农历腊月二十三日起到年三十,民间把这段时间叫做“迎春日”,也叫“扫尘日”,在春节前扫尘做卫生,是我国人民素有的传统习惯。

Lantern Festival       然后就是家家户户准备年货,节前十天左右,人们就开始忙于采购物品,年货包括鸡鸭鱼肉、茶酒油酱、南北炒货、糖饵果品,都要采买充足,还要准备一些过年时走亲访友时赠送的礼品,小孩子要添置新衣新帽,准备过年时穿。


      春节的另一名称叫过年。在过去的传说中,年是一种为人们带来坏运气的想象中的动物。年一来。树木凋蔽,百草不生;年一过,万物生长,鲜花遍地。年如何才能过去呢?需用鞭炮轰 ,于是有了燃鞭炮的习俗,这其实也是烘托热闹场面的又一种方式。

      春节是个欢乐祥和的节日,也是亲人团聚的日子,离家在外的孩子在过春节时都要回家欢聚。过年的前一夜,就是旧年的腊月三十夜,也叫除夕,又叫团圆夜,在这新旧交替的时候,守岁是最重要的年俗活动之一,除夕晚上,全家老小都一起熬年守岁,欢聚酣饮,共享天伦之乐,北方地区在除夕有吃饺子的习俗,饺子的作法是先和面,和字就是合;饺子的饺和交谐音,合和交有相聚之意,又取更岁交子之意。在南方有过年吃年糕的习惯,甜甜的粘粘的年糕,象征新一年生活甜蜜蜜,步步高。 待第一声鸡啼响起,或是新年的钟声敲过,街上鞭炮齐鸣,响声此起彼伏,家家喜气洋洋,新的一年开始了,男女老少都穿着节日盛装,先给家族中的长者拜年祝寿,节中还有给儿童压岁钱,吃团年饭,初二、三就开始走亲戚看朋友,相互拜年,道贺祝福,说些恭贺新喜、恭喜发财、恭喜、过年好等话,祭祖等活动。 




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