Chinese Spring Festival: Time for Dumplings and New Year Cakes

China’s most significant festival, “Chunjie” or the “Spring Festival” marked on the 25th of January this year. The festival usually commences on the first (New Moon) day and ends on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival. Unlike the Gregorian Calendar, the Chinese Lunar calendar consists of 354 days. The dates of the festival fall somewhere between the 21st of January and the 20th of February each year. As per the lunar calendar, the year 2020 is the year of Metal Rat.

Except for Rat, the other Chinese zodiac signs include Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. According to Chinese astrology, a human’s existence is affected by their zodiac signs, the five elements of nature (Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal), Yin (feminine, passive, and dark energy) and Yang ( masculine, light, and active energy). As per Chinese belief, all these symbols with the forces join together to make you who you are.

The Rat is the first in the circle of Chinese zodiac signs. Therefore with respect to its position and characteristics, it is believed that the year of Metal Rat would contain the qualities of both metal and rat, providing stable growth, rejuvenation, and accomplishments to both the nation as well as individuals. According to a legend, once the Jade Emperor (king of the heavens) threw a party and decided to invite 12 animals from the Earth. The Rat reached first of all the animals to the party, and since then, it remains in the first position in the zodiac circle. The Pig, however, reached last because it overslept, and thus became last in the circle. The Jade emperor’s birthday, in China, is believed to be the 9th day of the Spring Festival.

Chunjie dates back somewhere between 1600 and 1100 B.C, during the reigns of the Shang Dynasty. Initially, many traditions were followed during the festival. Most of them, however, faded with time, while a few others are still in practice. The most popular among the remaining traditions is to welcome the New Year with a clean and beautifully decorated environment. For this, people clean their homes, stores, while shopping for decorative items, colorful clothes, food items, and gifts for friends and family. Red stickers with the Chinese character “Fu (福),” which means good fortune or happiness, is pasted on the front doors of the house. Additionally, red lanterns are hanged outside the homes, stores, and beside the streets for embellishment.

Another popular tradition during Chunjie is the dance of Lion and Dragon. Dating back to 600s during Tao Dynasty, this colorful and vibrant dance is believed to bring good luck while forcing away the evil spirits. The Lion dance typically requires fewer performers in comparison with the Dragon dance, in which a minimum of 9 members are needed to form a long tail of Dragon.

Families celebrate the eve of Chunjie by preparing food and having reunion dinner together. Although a variety of dishes are made, chicken, fish, and bean curd are of utmost importance as the Chinese pronunciations for these items “Ji,” “Yu,” and “DouFu” indicate auspiciousness, abundance, and richness. While people in the North of China eat dumplings (Jiao Zi) during the festival, the Southern Chinese people prefer eating New Year cake made with glutinous rice flour names “Nian Gao.” Families also like to drink their unique alcoholic beverages during the festival. The most popular among drinks, however, is the Chinese white wine or “Baijiu.”

Following dinner, the entire family watches the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV, which, over the years, has become an integral part of the entertainment for this eve. As the New Year eve passes, people extend their greetings to their near and dear ones. Gifts are usually wrapped in the red gift papers before exchanging with each other. Elders of the family give money to the young members by keeping inside the red envelops as a sign of blessings for their good luck. Traditionally, people would light firecrackers in the Spring Festival’s night; however, in recent years, as a result of increasing threat of global warming, it is banned in most parts of China. As per a legend, there was once a monster named, “Nian,” who would come to harass people living in the village every year. Frustrated by the monster, once a brave young boy decided to solve this problem once and for all. When the beast came, the boy lighted many firecrackers and scared the beast off of the village. The scared monster ran for its life and never returned to the town.

Celebrated by more than 20% of the human population, Chunjie is one of the most popular festivals in the world. Except for China, it is also celebrated in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, America, and Canada because of the sizeable Chinese population residing in these nations. Apart from being the most famous festival, it is also responsible for the most massive annual human migration in the world. The 40-day period, popularly known as “Chunyun,” is the duration when Chinese people travel either to their home towns for a family reunion or to other destinations for celebrating the holiday in a more modern way.

From glowing lights of lanterns to dance of Lions and Dragons, from beautiful red decorations to the temple fairs in every city, Spring Festival every year brings positive energy, which is truly revitalizing and is worth the wait.

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