The most important holiday in China without question is Spring Festival – the Chinese New Year. It begins on the first day of the Chinese traditional calendar – which is usually some time between the end of January and the middle of February – and concludes on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival.
Many myths and traditions revolve around this holiday, the most prominent legends claiming that Spring Festival originated in the fight against a mythical beast that would come about this time of the year to devour whatever was in its way. In order to protect themselves, people offered food to the beast, until later they discovered that using the color red would frighten off the creature, as well as the noise of fire crackers. Hence, now, every year at Spring Festival, people paste red paper strips on their door posts, containing phrases of blessing and luck, and all throughout the season of the new year, fire crackers can be heard everywhere.
Some of the most common traditions centered around the Chinese New Year are:
- Family Reunions: The vast majority of Chinese people returns to their hometowns to celebrate the holiday together with their family. This results in an excessive demand for public transportation, turning traveling around this time into a major challenge. For married couples/families, the first day of the holiday is spent with the husband’s/father’s family, while the second day (if possible) daughters may have their turn in visiting their families. Over all, Spring Festival is the season of visiting immediate and extended family, as it is the only opportunity during the year for many Chinese to meet with other family members.
- Meals & Snacks: Spring Festival is a time of grand family dinners and all-day snacking. Typically, meals turn into a feast during the holidays and in between many kinds of treats are offered. In some areas of China, however, dumplings are a major part of the meal plan for New Years, as not eating them may result in bad luck! So, it’s quite common to get up very early on the morning of the new year (5-6 am is the norm) to eat dumplings, exchange presents, and wish each other luck.
- Presents & Red Envelopes: For many Chinese, Spring Festival is the only time a year when they get presents. Usually, everyone in the family will get a new set of clothes, and parents (and grandparents) will present the younger members of the family with a red envelope containing some money. The red envelope usually will be handed to the children early in the morning of the first day of Spring Festival when it also is time to eat the dumplings.
- TV Show: For most Chinese the CCTV New Year’s Gala has taken a major role in how they spend their New Year’s Eve. Basically, the entire nation will gather around their TV sets to watch the show that usually is a mixture of singing, dancing, theater pieces, comedy, acrobatics, etc.
Generally speaking, the Chinese New Year for many Chinese is the only time of the year to get a couple days off work and spend time with their families, therefore it is the favorite holiday for most people in China.
For more extensive information on Spring Festival you may go to Wikipedia’s “Chinese New Year”.