Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, starts on February 19, 2015, and lasts for fifteen days and it is placed at the turn of the Chinese calendar. Originating during the Shang Dynasty (about 17th – 11th century BC), Spring Festival celebrates family reunion. It is full of rich and colorful activities and hopes with the advent of spring and flowers blossoming. Among many customs relating to gifts, decorations, food and greetings we bring you 10 awesome Chinese New Year traditions.
1. Ancestor worship
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Ancestor worship is a religious practice based on the belief that deceased family members have a continued existence, that the spirits of deceased ancestors will look after the family, take an interest in the affairs of the world, and possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. The living offer various kinds of help to keep the ancestors happy in the spiritual world, who, in return, will bless the family. The function of ancestor worship is to cultivate values like filial piety, family loyalty, and continuity of the family lineage. Ancestor worship consists of offering joss stick, serving as communication and greetings to the deceased, prayers and offering items before memorial tablets.
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“Red” is the main color for the festival. It is believed to be an auspicious color, the symbol of good luck in Chinese culture and is often used for New Year decorations. The number “8” also symbolizes good luck and wealth, since the Chinese word for eight rhymes with fortune or wealth. Red lanterns hang in streets; red couplets are pasted on doors; banks and official buildings are decorated with red New Year pictures depicting images of prosperity.
3. Chinese couplets
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Chinese couplets, an important cultural heritage, are pasted as decorations on doorways as a part of the New Year’s celebration. The custom of pasting couplets can be traced back over one thousand years. The original form of modern couplets was called “Taofu”, a piece of peach wood protecting against evil without any writing on it. The antithetical couplets began to be written on the wood to express people’s good wishes as well as being a decoration. The modern form of couplets include antithetical on two sides and a horizontal scroll hanging on the top.
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Firecrackers are always set off at midnight. The use of firecrackers can be traced to 2,000 years ago, when people threw bamboo into the fire to drive away a monster called “Nian”. After gunpowder was invented, firecrackers replaced the bamboo. The loud noises of the firecrackers are thought to scare the bad spirits away. Fireworks are also set off in the evening of Lantern Festival.
5. Traditional red envelopes
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Traditional red envelopes of money often decorated with gold Chinese characters are handed out to younger generations by their parents, grandparents or relatives during this holiday. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. The history of this tradition has no clear source.
6. Dragon Dance
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One of the most anticipated traditional celebrations and ceremonies by kids and adults, Dragon Dance is the traditional dance performed by a team of dancers who parade a colorful Dragon through the streets. As a symbol of China, dragons are believed to bring good luck. Traditionally, the Dragon Dance costume was made from bamboo hoops and wooden poles. Today lighter materials, like plastic, are used to construct the frame, which is then covered in rich fabrics and festooned with lights, feathers, and other festive details.
7. Lion Dance
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Lion Dance is a traditional dance performance used to summon luck and good fortune in the Chinese New Year’s Parades, tracing back to the old Chinese traditions of wearing masks to resemble animals or mythical beasts. All over South East Asia there are different types of Lion Dances spread by the Chinese communities and influenced by the local myths and folk customs.
8. Fu paper cuts
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Every household usually sticks posters of various sizes bearing the Chinese character “Fu” on doors and walls. The character is a symbol of happiness, bliss and fortune used to express people’s good wishes and yearning for the future. The character “Fu” is decorated with other motifs such as birthday peaches, the carp jumping over the dragon gate and dragon and phoenix. Paper-cut is used for window decoration too and comes in different colors and patterns. It’s a folk craft with a history of over a thousand years. Common subjects are mythological legends, natural life, flowers, birds, fish and the twelve zodiac signs among many others.
9. The Chinese zodiac
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The Chinese zodiac is an important trademark of Chinese culture. 2015 is The Chinese year of the Goat (Sheep). Decorations related to goats will be commonly seen. There are red goat dolls for children and New Year paintings with goats on them. The year of the goat is a good one for the family, the fortune in all aspects will fluctuate and the hard work will be the key to career promoting.
10. Lantern Festival
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Lantern Festival celebrates the fifteenth day of the first lunar month and the last day of Spring Festival. According to the folk custom of China, people lighten up fancy lanterns and go out to appreciate the moon. They set off fireworks, guess riddles written on lanterns, and eat rice glue balls to celebrate the festival. It is a Buddhist convention that the monks would lighten up lanterns to show respect to Buddha. Therefore, Emperors determined to promote Buddhism, ordered people to lighten up lanterns in both palaces and temples on that night to show respect to Buddha. Additionally, civilians were all requested to hang up lanterns, which is why the festival is called “Lantern Festival”. In the Song Dynasty, the custom of guessing riddles written on lanterns on Lantern Festival came into being and people began to write riddles on paper strips and then pasted them on the colorful lanterns for others to appreciate and guess, a custom held up to this today. In the Qing Dynasty, fireworks were set off to add fun, and the Lantern Festival came into the form we witness today. The Lantern Festival enjoys more and more celebrating activities and adds traditional folk-custom performances such as the well known Lion Dance or striking Peace Drum. The Lantern Festival has undergone a history of over 2,000 years and it is a very popular tradition both at home and abroad.