Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, is one of the most important festivals in Chinese culture. It has been celebrated for more than 4,000 years, ever since Emperor Shun is said to have ascended the throne on New Year’s Day and paid homage to Heaven and Earth. There are a diverse range of story and customs for Spring Festival traditions — let’s take a closer look!
年的故事 | The story of Nian
In ancient times, monsters called Nian who lived in the mountains descended on villages at dusk of every Chinese New Year’s Eve, devouring people and livestock. At dawn, they would return to their mountainous lair.
On one Chinese New Year’s Eve, it was noticed that the rampaging monsters did not eat a newlywed couple who wore red. The monsters fled when they lit bamboo sticks. Villagers realized that the monsters feared the color red, bright lights and cracking sounds.
From this knowledge, many customs associated with Spring Festival — Chunjie (春节) — arose.
年夜饭 | Nianyefan: Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner
Nianyefan, or Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, is a major part of the Spring Festival. No matter how far from home they are, most Chinese try to return to their family for this end-of-year dinner, which may last through to midnight. Watching the annual China Central Television Spring Festival Gala is a more recent addition to this tradition.
Round foods, such as tangyuan (汤圆 glutinous rice balls), symbolize reunion.
Jiaozi (饺子 dumplings) are usually served at midnight in northern China. Sometimes coins are placed inside and those who find them will have good luck in the coming year, according to tradition.
Niangao (年糕), or rice cakes, are preferred in southern China, as the name sounds similar to “annual improvement,” nian nian gao sheng (年年高升).