Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival and is the oldest and most important festival to the Chinese community. The actual date of the holiday is determined by the lunar calendar and because of this cycle, it varies around late January to mid-February.
The Spring Festival celebrates the return of life into the soil and it is from this point in the calendar that ploughing can sowing can begin (similar to Plough Monday in the United Kingdom). The festival is linked throughout to food and many special foods are prepared and eaten during the celebrations.
Many of these foods have symbolic meaning to the Chinese, some of which are more easily understand - the golden fruit of the Kumquat plant symbolizing prosperity. Others are less obvious to us, for example, where the names of the foods sound similar to Chinese characters associated with luck.
The preparations for the festivities are exhausting as well as being extensive. It is usual to clean the house from top to bottom in-order to rid it of bad luck (sweep it out). It is also traditionally a time for painting window and doors (usually in red for luck). Any debts are repaid and decorations, primarily of red and gold, are used extensively hung on walls and in windows.
As well as smartening the house, it is usual for the individual to use the run up to the festival to get a hair-cut and buy new clothes to wear during the celebrations. Some of these customs we may recognize and conform to ourselves. Many Chinese also use the time before the festival to prepare their bodies for the Chinese New Year by choosing a more cleansing diet.
New Year's Eve is traditional a time for large family gathering and the sharing of a banquet. The style of food is dependent on the area where you live. This is the time for remembering and honoring departed ancestors. It is widely believed that the spirits of these departed relatives will attend the living on New Year's Eve in-order to celebrate the changing of the year together. The common name for this feast is 'weilu' or 'surrounding the stove'.
After the banquet, celebrations include fireworks and firecrackers which are set off to frighten away evil spirits. At the stroke of midnight between the two years, it is usual for Chinese to open all of their windows and doors to see out the old and welcome in the new.
On Chinese New Year's Day, Chinese celebrate the ancient custom of 'Hong Bao' or 'Red Packet'. This ritual involves placing small red parcels or envelopes containing sweets or money under children's pillows and for couples to give unmarried adults small amounts of money small red envelopes containing sweets or money under their pillows and married couples give unmarried adults small packets of money. "Kung hei fat choy!" 'Happy New Year!'
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