While Chinese New Year officially began on Monday 8th February, in many places Spring Festival celebrations have been ongoing since the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, although it is more traditional to celebrate from Chinese New Year’s Eve until the Lantern Festival, fifteen days later.
Yuan Dan 正月
Chinese New Year festivities officially begin on the first day of the first lunar month, or Yuan Dan. The day is usually welcomed in by the sound of firecrackers and fireworks at midnight, a custom inspired by the ancient folk story of the Nian, a monster who would terrorise villagers every Chinese New Year’s Eve until one year it was scared away by the sounds of explosions.
Many people visit the older and more senior members of the family on this day to pay their respects and to strengthen relationships. It is on these visits that guests are often welcomed with a Tray of Togetherness, a round or octagonal tray filled with sugared fruits and sweet treats frequently arranged in eight compartments symbolising good luck.
There are many people who abstain from meat on this day, believing that it will purify and cleanse the body. It is also a way of honouring the Buddhist tradition that nothing living should be killed on the first day of the New Year.
According to ancient legend, the second day of celebrations is the birthday of the Chinese God of Wealth, Tsai Shen. To pay homage to this deity, people often eat jiaozi, resembling the shape of ingots, an ancient Chinese currency.
This day is reserved for married daughters to visit their parents’ house. It is also believed to be a day sacred to dogs, so pets and strays are fed well.
The third day of the lunar year is regarded as an inauspicious day, and it is recommended that visits to friends and family should be kept to a minimum due to the number of evil spirits who roam the earth this day.
Chikou is considered to be the day of the God of Blazing Wrath or God of Anger, also sometimes known as Red Dog day, and it is believed that tempers will be fraught and arguments will be common, so it is preferable to visit the graves of recently passed ancestors instead.
On the fifth day of Spring Festival celebrations, people in the northern provinces of China often eat dumplings which they believe will bring them wealth and prosperity.
It is regarded in many provinces as the birthday of the God of Wealth, and hence respect is paid by beating drums and gongs and burning incense. It is also believed to be unlucky to leave the house for too long just in case the family misses the God of Wealth’s visit.
The seventh day is known as Renri, or ‘everyman’s birthday’. On this day, every person in the country is believed to be one year older.
According to Chinese legends, a goddess called Nüwa created the world. In doing so, she created different animals on different days. On the seventh day she created human beings from clay, hence the reason that the day is celebrated as every person’s birthday.
In commemoration of this day, a number of different dishes are eaten. Yusheng, or lo hei, is eaten in some communities in order to bring about an increase in abundance: yusheng literally means ‘raw fish’, but it is commonly conflated with its homophone ‘abundance’, therefore the dish is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigour.
Similarly, whole fish and uncut noodles are enjoyed as it is believed that fish represents wealth and the noodles signify longevity of life, often referred to as ‘longevity noodles’.
The birthday of the Jade Emperor
According to Taoism, the Jade Emperor is the King of Heavens. On the ninth day of Chinese New Year celebrations, many people celebrate the Jade Emperor’s birthday by leaving sacrifices of long noodles, green tea, fruit and vegetables.
At midnight, many people explode firecrackers and fireworks, and even more visit the temple of the Jade Emperor to pay their respects.
The next day is spent enjoying food with family and friends.
The thirteenth day is dedicated to Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War and Success.
Guan Yu was the most successful general during the Han Dynasty, and therefore traditionally all businesses and organisations pray to Guan Yu on this day.
Only simple vegetarian food is eaten in order to cleanse the body.
The Lantern Festival
The Lantern, or Shangyuan, Festival marks the first full moon of the New Year. Families celebrate this day by hosting reunion dinners and lighting red lanterns that hang in the streets that will guide the spirits back home.
It is traditional on this day to eat tangerines, symbolising prosperity, and tangyuan dumplings, sweet dumplings that sit in a refreshing broth, whose round shapes represent reunion and togetherness.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!