Chinese New Year's Custom, Tradition and Activities

Customs & Activities of Chinese New Year

Purchasing Spring Festival Couplets
Purchasing Spring Festival Couplets

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it is sometimes called, is a 15-day festival in traditional custom. It can be generally divided into three periods, the days preceding the festival, the festival days and the days after the Spring Festival Day. There are different customs related to each period:

1. Preceding Days

 Cleaning and Purchasing
Cleaning before Chinese New Year is a tradition in China. The grounds, the walls, and every corner of the house need to be cleaned. In Chinese, “Dust” is a homophone for the word “old” (Chen), thus cleaning means to drive the bad luck or the old things away from the house to get ready for a new start.

After cleaning people will go shopping and buy new clothes for the festival. People in China believe that since this is a year anew they should buy a lot of new things. Purchasing new items symbolizes welcoming new things and getting ready for a new start.

 Spring Festival Couplets
Couplets are typically pasted on doorways as a part of the festival's celebration. The custom of pasting couplets can be traced back over one thousand years to the Later Shu State (934 - 965). The original form of modern couplets was called “Taofu”, a piece of peach wood protecting against evil without any writing on. In the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), the antithetical couplets began to be written on the wood to express people’s good wishes as well as being a decoration. Later, the modern form of couplets appeared replacing peach wood with the red paper. The couplets include antithetical on two sides and a horizontal scroll hanging on the top.

Paper-Cut - Character Fu, Meaning Happiness
Pasting the 'Fu',
Meaning Happiness

 Pasting the “Fu”
The character “Fu”, meaning good fortune or happiness, is used to express people’s good wishes and yearning for the future, so people usually paste it gates or some furniture in the house during the Chinese New Year. Pasting the “Fu” upside down, meaning the arrival of happiness or good fortune, is a widely accepted and popular custom among Chinese people. Other auspicious characters and patterns are added to express good wishes.

In the ancient time, this character and the couplets were written by hand, but now, people can buy printed ones in shopping malls or supermarkets. Some shops even present these printed works to customers who buy something in their shops.

Auspicious words or pictures are cut on red paper and pasted on windows to express good wishes for the future during the happy event.

 New Year Pictures
They originated in Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) with simple patterns to drive away evil. Now they are a kind of decoration for the festival. New meanings and patterns such as conventions, women and babies have been added to the old pictures. Different places in China have different styles of pictures.

 Greeting Cards

Chinese Knot
Chinese Knot

The Cards are prepared before the festival. In the past, some people sent cards to their friends, parents, teachers and other relatives during the happy event especially when they were not going to be with them on Spring Festival’s Eve. Words of blessing are written on the cards similar to Christmas cards. Now, with the advance of technology, the form of cards has changed, the custom of sending cards continues.
Send Free Greeting Cards to your friends!

 Gate Gods
In Taoism and folk-custom, the Gods of the Gate, one of the most popular gods, guard houses. Ancient people pasted their pictures on the door to drive away evil and keep their houses safe. Now their pictures are pasted on the doors during the Spring Festival.

 Chinese Knots
They are prepared to decorate houses during the festival. They were first used to string jade pendants on clothes as decorations and these knots were widely used in different places such as flute, Xiao (a vertical bamboo flute), curtain and so on as decorations. Now these knots are used as gifts containing the blessing for other people or decorations.

2. Festival Time

Having reunion dinners, eating dumplings, staying up all night, setting off firecrackers and other activities are the most popular customs of the Spring Festival. Besides, visiting relatives, gifts are also exchanged during the first days of the festival.

 Eating Dumplings


The most important food during Chinese New Year is the dumpling (jiaozi). Made with flour and stuffed with different fillings, dumplings are usually eaten on the Eve. Because their shape resembles the Yuanbao (a kind of money used in ancient times), dumplings are eaten to bring wealth in the coming year. People wrap coins, candy, peanuts, or chestnuts in some of the dumplings to express different blessing for example a coin for wealth, candy for sweet life, peanuts for health and longevity, and chestnuts for vigor. It is also a custom in many parts of China to eat dumplings on Jan. 1st and Jan. 15th of lunar calendar.
Learn to Make Dumplings

 Staying Up:
The custom of staying up all night dates back to the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-289). In ancient times, after the reunion dinner, families members chatted around the stove while waiting for the arrival of the Lunar New Year. Now they watch CCTV New Year's Gala.

 CCTV New Year's Gala:
This is a comprehensive art and performance event on the festival's eve. Since it was first broadcasted in 1983, it has become a beloved performance for most Chinese people. Performances include basic elements such as skits, cross talk (Xiangsheng), acrobatics, songs and dances. Recently more and more foreign artists are appearing which provides Chinese people a window into western cultures. The performance always ends with the song “Cannot Forget Tonight”.

 Firecrackers and Fireworks:
Firecrackers are always set off at midnight. In some places, people also set off firecrackers on the morning of the first day. The use of firecrackers can be traced to the legend of the Monster Nian in 2,000 years ago, when people threw bamboo into the fire to drive away the monster. After gunpowder was invented, firecrackers replaced the bamboo. Because fires can be easily started by the firecrackers, many places ban firecrackers except in designated areas. Fireworks are also set off in the evening of Lantern Festival.

 Red Envelope:
Red envelope, also known as lucky money, is prepared for children by adults and the elderly and given after the reunion dinner. In folk culture, the children will live safe and sound for the whole year if they get lucky money. This custom still remains and the amount of money is increasing. Children use their money to buy books or other school supplies. Some families also save the money for future use or use it to help cultivate in their children the habit of saving.

3. Following Days

 Visting Friends and Relatives
A special way for people to express good wishes to each other and an important activity during the festival is to visit their friends and relatives. In ancient times younger people had to salute the elderly by kowtowing; today they salute them by offering good wishes. In response, the older generation gives them money wrapped in red paper.

Generally speaking, people drop in at relatives and friends' houses, greeting one another with 'Happy New Year'. This custom has not changed. In some rural places, where families have many relatives, this activity lasts for several days. It is impolite to visit someone without a gift. Therefore, special local products, fruits, desserts, wines and other small gifts should be taken when you visit others.
Read more about Gift Ideas

Although busy people choose to send greetings by telephone or e-mail, the old tradition of paying visits is still popular.

 Temple Fairs
Temple fair is another old  practice in festival traditions, especially in Beijing. Although they originally were a form of worship connected with temples, now they are more like carnivals and are sometimes held in parks. Traditional cultural performances such as playing diabolo, traditional magic, puppet shows and so on can be seen. Besides, people can buy all kinds of daily using things at very low prices.

During and after the festival, Beijing has temple fairs almost every day in different places such as Wangfujing, Altar of the Earth and Longtan Park.

Shehuo on Lantern Festival
Yangko on Lantern Fesitval
Lantern Show in Xian
Xian City Wall Lantern Show

 Enjoying Colorful Festive Lanterns
The Lantern Festival marks the end of the festival. Lanterns in different shapes are displayed on the evening of Jan. 15th of lunar month. In ancient times, these lanterns were made of paper or silk with candles placed inside. Now the materials have changed and the candles have replaced by bulbs or LEDs. In many cities, organizations or local government decorate the gardens and other places with lanterns so you can enjoy their beauty.

Shehuo is often part of the Lantern Festival particularly in Northwestern China. Shehuo is a form of worship consisting of both shows and parades.  It includes a variety of performances such as the dragon and lion dances, yangko (a popular rural folk dance), and performers on stilts. The Shehuo stories come from Shaanxi operas. People crowd the roads to watch the exciting parade.

 Rice Dumplings
In many regions, the Rice Dumpling (Yuanxiao or Tangyuan) is a popular traditional food for the Lantern Festival. The dumplings are made of sticky rice flour stuffed with different fillings. Some do not have fillings. Their round shape symbolizes reunion, harmony and happiness. During the night of the Lantern Festival, family members gather together to eat the delicious Rice Dumplings and appreciate the full moon.

 Further Reading:
Chinese New Year Facts
Festival Food
Festivities Schedule
Ten Traditions You Don't Know
Present-day Chinese New Year - Modern Activities
Difference on Celebrations between North and South China

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