The Chinese Spring Festival is Coming Soon!

I have been in the United States for more than a year, and I have experienced many traditional American holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Now I am anticipating a traditional Chinese Festival that is coming up later this month. On January 25th, we will celebrate the Spring Festival (春节).  While thinking about the Spring Festival, an interesting notion comes to my mind. Spring Festival actually incorporates features from all three of those major holidays that most Americans celebrate. 

First of all, the element that Spring Festival shares with Thanksgiving is the big feast families have together. On the eve of Spring Festival (除夕), families gather for a big feast just like most Americans do on Thanksgiving. One of the traditional Chinese foods that we eat is dumplings (饺子). I think dumplings are familiar to many people, a thin piece of dough with juicy stuffing inside. First you dip one end of your dumpling into a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil, then take a bite. The taste of the juice, the delicious, oily stuffing, and the salty, sour taste of the sauce all mix together in your mouth. One bite is enough for you to enjoy for minutes. 

In addition to the wonderful taste of dumplings on the eve of the Spring Festival, we also have a special tradition called lucky money. Before we make dumplings, we gather several coins and wash them clean. Then, when we are preparing the stuffing to place inside the dough, we randomly place one coin inside a few dumplings and seal the dough around them. Remember, there’s only one coin in each of the “lucky” dumplings. A person’s first bite is often accompanied by an “ouch”, and then we know that person is one of the lucky ones! When we finish our meal, each coin a person has collected represents his/her luck for the coming new year. In addition to dumplings, each family usually has a variety of delicious dishes on their table that is unique and special to that family. This is a family feast of the finest and a celebration for the year to come.

Another essential element of our Chinese Spring Festival that reminds me of Christmas in the U.S. is the gathering of family. The family gathers on the eve of the Spring Festival to enjoy the feast together, but we also share other special activities. For example, once the traditional feast ends, the family members go outside and light up the sky with fireworks and firecrackers. This tradition comes from an ancient legend that tells the story of a monster named Nian (年) who comes out and eats people at the end of the year. In the legend, the people were very afraid of Nian so the King of the gods up in heaven (玉皇大帝) sent a warrior to kill Nian. Since Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noises, the warrior told the people to prepare red sheets and firecrackers when Nian comes out. So, at the end of the year, people would gather and stick red paper sheets on their windows and make red clothes to wear. Then when Nian came out, people would go outside dressed in red and light loud firecrackers. This scared Nian and made him an easy target for the warrior who easily killed him. Even today on the night before the Spring Festival, people put red stencils on their windows, dress in the color red, and light firecrackers to celebrate.

Another important activity associated with the Spring Festival is the visiting of extended family. We go and visit relatives or close friends to wish each other a happy new year.  At this time, traditionally, the elders give the young people red envelopes, called red pockets, filled with money. After these visits, the family returns home to watch the Spring Festival Gala on TV. This Gala has become a tradition since 1983. The program contains dancing, singing, comical acting (which is always my favorite) and other featured entertainment. The Gala lasts from 8:00 pm until a little after midnight, and when it is 12:00 midnight, there is always a countdown that is very exciting. After the Spring Festival ends, most people go to sleep with a feeling of happiness that they will carry into the next year.

Last but not least, the Spring Festival in China represents the start of a new and different year.  It’s different because, unlike our calendar, which is based on the Earth’s movement around the sun, the calendar ancient Chinese people used was the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar is based on the position of the moon in relation to the earth. It calculates years, months, and days by astronomical phenomena, such as the full moon. The lunar calendar is also called the Agricultural Calendar (农历) because it is very accurate in predicting weather patterns throughout the year. Our ancestors created 24 solar terms. Each term represents one particular day in every month, and on each of those days, they predict a specific weather pattern that is very helpful for farmers to know when to plant and when to harvest their crops. Even today, we can still feel the power of our ancestors working on those particular days, even though the lunar calendar was replaced by the solar calendar. 

The Chinese Spring Festival is a very special time of year. It is a time to celebrate the importance of family and to remember our ancestors’ hard work as we look ahead to the new year, which we hope will be a prosperous and healthy one. Happy New Year, everyone!