The most important Chinese holiday is Chinese New Year, which is known in China as Spring Festival. The festival ushers in the lunar New Year and is the West’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve rolled into one. From sun up to sun down, this is a time when the whole country throws itself into celebrating and eating.
Legend of Chinese New Year:
No one is quite sure exactly when or where the festival originated. Legend has it that once upon a time, there was a monster called Nian that attacked Chinese villages every spring, eating anything that came its way – people, animals, plants and the odd building. One spring, villagers hung red paper on their doors and threw bamboo on a fire when arrived. The monster was so startled by the bright colors and loud crackling noise of the burning bamboo that it turned and fled. Today the word“ nian” is the Chinese word for year.
Since that day, Chinese people hang red paper signs and lanterns outside their homes and enjoy making loud noises on New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers replaced bamboo after gunpowder was invented and the main idea today is the louder and bigger, the better.
Activities of the Spring Festival:
New Year Cleaning
In the days leading up to the Spring Festival, every household gets a thorough clean since sweeping on New Year’s Day itself might sweep away the year’s good fortune. Breaking dishes or using sharp objects is also seen as potentially unlucky.
Family Reunion Dinner
On Chinese New Year Eve, a grand family reunion dinner is held in every home. All family members are expected to return home for the reunion.Foods in the typical menu are chosen for their auspicious meanings, such as fish for richness and glutinous rick cakes (Nian Gao) for better life. Usually the fish is intentionally not finished, and the remaining is stored overnight. It comes from a Chinese pun “Nian Nian You Yu”, where the pronounciation of fish (Yu) is the same as leftover/surplus, thus giving a message of “having profit every year”.
The Character Fu
The Character Fu, literally meaning luck, auspiciousness, happiness or blessing, is a must in Spring Festival decorations. It can be found on a poster, on a red envelope, as a paper-cutting work, on a Chinese knot, and in many other New Year decorations for the festival.
An interesting fact is that the Character Fu is usually displayed upside-down. That’s because in Chinese, the words for “upside-down” and “to arrive” sound similar. Therefore, pasting the Character Fu upside-down on a door indicates “Good luck arrives”.
New Year Couplets
New Year Couplets are an essential part of Spring Festival decorations. New Year Couplets are written in black ink on two vertical strips of red paper which is then pasted each on one side of a door. The first (or upper) line is on the right side while the second (lower) line is on the left. A third horizontal piece is pasted on the door frame.
Typically the New Year Couplets present a happy and hopeful message and sincere wish for a better New Year.
Ancestral worship and God worship are important parts of festivals for paying respects to ancestors or fairies, and wishing for a smooth and harvest year. Heaven Worship at Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a highlight during the Chinese New Year Festival. It tries to reproduce at most the worship ceremony of the Qing Dynasty (1616-1912A.D.). From costumes to props, from music to ceremonial utensils, and to the etiquette, all efforts to bring you back to the imperial time.
Red Envelope or Red Packetis a monetary gift (lucky money packed in a red envelope) presented at social and family gatherings such as weddings or on holidays such as the Lunar New Year. It symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. It is also named as Ya Sui Qian, meaning money to guard against evil and bless with happiness.
Traditionally the lucky money is in even number (especially in a number with auspicious meanings). For example, 88 is a lucky number for the pronounciation of eight is similar to the words for getting rich.
Spring Festival Activities in Beijing:
Temple fair is one of the most important celebration activities during the Spring Festival in Beijing. This traditional cultural event integrates religious worship and entertainment, and features almost all kinds of Chinese folk art. Temple fairs in Beijing have a long history, and the origin can be traced back to the Liao Dynasty (907 – 1125). The fairs are held at various ancient temples regularly or during festivals, so they are called “temple fairs”.
For foreigners, visiting a temple fair is definitely a cultural experience. You may enjoy the reenactment of the ceremony of worship to Earth and Heaven. Folk performances like dragon and lion dances, demonstration of traditional arts and crafts, and fun games are all part and parcel of temple fairs. You can also taste numerous Beijing snacks, court dishes and delicacies. Read more on New Year celebrations in Beijing
Ditan Temple Fair
Ditan Temple Fair is one of the most popular and long-standing fairs in Beijing. About one million people visit it each year during the Spring Festival. Besides the ceremonies, there are a wide range of folk performances and activities, such as puppet shows, traditional art exhibitions, dragon and lion dances, and acrobatic shows.
Location: Ditan (Temple of the Earth) Park, East Avenue, Anding Gate, Dongcheng District.
Longtan Temple Fair
Longtan Temple Fair is also one of the most popular o ones of its kind in Beijing. The activities here are very similar to those in Ditan Temple Fair. Various interactive games and competitions invite you to join in, such as table tennis, diabolo (Chinese Yoyo) spinning and arm wrestling. Folk performances and local snacks also abound at the fair.
Dongyue Temple Fair Dongyue Temple Fair
Dongyue Temple Fair had started as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206 – 1368). The culture of “Fu” has been the essence of this fair. Many activities are centered on the “Fu” culture. Visitors can pray for food fortune at the altar, walk on the “Fu” road, or hang a “Fu” card to invite Fu” for the coming year. Colorful folk performances, artwork displays, and snacks are also available.