Chinese New Year or Spring Festival
Far and away the most important holiday in China is Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese New Year. To the Chinese people it is as important as Christmas to people in the West and should always be spent with family. It is a time for people to look back over their work in the previous year and to look forward with hope and anticipation that the New Year will be happy, auspicious, prosperous and peaceful. Chinese people always celebrate the Chinese New Year no matter where they are.
The dates for this annual celebration are determined by the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, so the timing of the holiday varies from late January to early February. To the ordinary Chinese, the festival actually begins on the eve of the lunar New Year's Day and ends on the fifth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. But the 15th of the first month, which normally is called the Lantern Festival, means the official end of the Spring Festival in many parts of the country.
Preparations for the New Year begin the last few days of the last moon, when houses are thoroughly cleaned, debts repaid, hair cut and new clothes purchased. Houses are festooned with paper scrolls bearing auspicious antithetical couplets (as show on both sides of the page) and people burn incense at home and in the temples to pay respect to ancestors and ask the gods for good health in the coming months.
There are many legends about the Chinese New Year with one of the most popular being about a strange animal called Nian in Chinese and Year in English. It was said that Nian was so strong and ferocious that his roar could shake the skies and the earth and in cold winters when he could find no prey in the mountains he would come down to attack the villages.
People lived in fear of Nian and over time discovered that he was afraid of three things: The colour Red, Flame and Sound. Therefore, one winter before Nian was about to come down from the mountains, the villagers put up red colours, lit fires in front of every house and stayed up all night making different sounds. Nian was so frightened by this demonstration he went away never to return.
To commemorate this victory and ensure their continued safety, people put antithetical couplets on their front doors, lit candles and lanterns, beat drums and strike gourds, and stayed up most of the night to wish each other Happy New Year the next morning.
This custom has been passed down through the centuries and may be why Red is so popular with Chinese people, and firecrackers, lanterns, Gongs and Drums are so much a part of the celebrations at New Year. Traditional New Year celebrations also incorporate a lion dance to bring prosperity, and fire crackers to ward off evil spirits and welcome a new beginning.
Guo Nian meaning passing the year, is the common term among the Chinese people for celebrating the Spring Festival but don't forget to say Gong Xi Fa Cai next Chinese New Year.