Chinese people celebrate many festivals, some of them in the solar calendar and some in the lunar calendar. The Spring Festival (过年 guò nián) is the most important event in Chinese culture, and is in the lunar calendar. It has some strange, scary origins.

It is said that () nián is a kind of evil and cruel monster who goes from village to village to kill people for their flesh on the last day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar.

One year, on the evening of the last day of the twelfth month, the monster, Nián, came to a village where he met two cowboys competing in cracking a whip. The sound of the cracking whip was extremely loud. The monster was scared and ran away in a panic. The monster came to another village and suddenly saw a bright red jacket hanging on a clothesline and he didn't know what on earth it was. He was quite afraid and turned around to escape. At last, the monster got to another village and came to the door of a house. He peeped into the house through a crack between the door and the frame. He found the house was exceedingly illuminated and his eyes were dazzled and hurt by the super strong light from the house. He left the village hurry-scurry.

From then on, people were aware that the monster Nián feared loud noise, the color red and strong light. So, the Chinese people invented many ways to fight against the monster. These ways have evolved into the modern customs of taking some special precautionary steps on the last day of the year in the lunar calendar-- 过年 guò Nián, known as the celebration of the Spring Festival.

For many centuries now, Chinese people have set off firecrackers to make very loud noise. The most important round of firecrackers is set off between 11 pm to midnight of the last day of the old year, which is also the beginning of the New Year. Firecrackers are also set off before every meal for the first five days of the New Year.

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Another important thing to do to keep Nián away is to put on a red duplet (对联 duì lián) and the the Chinese character of )on the door, which means happiness and fortune. The symbols in red scare away the monster and other evils, and the words also mean best wishes for the New Year.

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In addition, lights in the house and yard are left on for the whole night before the beginning of the New Year.

Shopping for the Spring Festival begins two or three weeks in advance. People buy lots and lots of food because they don't want to go shopping during the Spring Festival, but just want to stay home with their family, and also because some businesses are closed for the first few days of the New Year. (This is also the time to buy new clothes for kids.)

Typical food for the Spring Festival is dumplings, a symbol of happiness and reunion. Children, adults and young, go to their parents' and prepare a big dinner. Dumpling making takes a lot of time, so the whole family makes dumplings together, a generally happy time.

As for the process of making dumplings, flour and water are mixed to make dough, and then it is divided into small pieces that are pressed into a thin wrapper with a rolling pin. Then vegetables (or meat) are chopped into fine pieces and mixed with condiments, like salt, MSG, pepper powder, soy sauce and ginger to make the filling. The filling is then enclosed within a piece of wrapper and the dumplings are boiled for five minutes before they are done. Chinese people have a meal at around 3 pm and another at around 11:30 pm when the dumplings are served.

Photo by Ziwu

One more thing that is indispensable to the Spring Festival is the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, which lasts from 8pm to 1am, the first day of the New Year.

As for kids, they kowtow to their parents and grandparents to get red bags full of money called 压岁钱yā suì qián)as Spring Festival gifts.

People also play cards or mahjong and go to parties with their friends. Some young couples schedule their wedding ceremonies right before the Spring Festival.

The Spring Festival is a busy and happy time in China. It is, after all, the number-one biggest festival for the Chinese people.

Hero image by Bridget Coila (CC-BY-SA-2.0)