New Year's Eve and Chinese New Year

The bustle and clamor at the markets selling colorful spring couplets and other New Year's decorations . . . Beginning in mid-December, families all around China start preparing for Chinese New Year, creating an atmosphere of joy and renewal.

A time of gratitude and family togetherness, New Year's Eve is spent by bidding farewell to the old year and thanking one's ancestors and the gods for their blessing and protection. Children who have left their hometowns return on this day to share New Year's Eve Dinner with their families, and for those unable to make the journey, a table setting is placed to symbolize their presence in spirit if not in body. At the end of dinner, the parents and older generation give New Year's money to the children, who have been waiting with growing anticipation for this moment to arrive. Finally, to watch the old year out and bring in the new year, families stay up until the wee hours of New Year's Day.

With the arrival of New Year's Day, life is renewed and the new year begins to unfold amidst the noise of firecrackers. The Chinese begin the day by worshipping their ancestors, following which the streets become filled with people making New Year's visits to friends and relatives and with the lively display of dragon dancing, lion dancing, and other folk activities.

To insure the arrival of luck and wealth in the new year, several taboos must be heeded. Floors may not be swept and garbage may not be disposed for fear of casting riches out the door; cussing and quarreling is to be avoided at all costs; and anyone who breaks a dish on this day must quickly say "Peace for all time," to avoid incurring misfortune.

On the second day of the new year, married women return to their natal home to visit family; on the fourth day, the gods return to the world of the living; and on the fifth day, many new stores and old businesses open their doors for the first time due to the auspiciousness of the day. The festive air of celebration continues in this manner all the way up to the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the new year before slowly ebbing back to normal life again.

Though the customary festivities held on Chinese New Year have been handed down for millennia, they still retain tremendous significance today. The cleaning and arrangement of one's living environment improves household sanitation and symbolizes a new beginning; the worship of ancestors and deities reflects the Chinese emphasis on filial piety and family ethics, and serves as an expression of gratitude; sitting around the hearth symbolizes unity and the value of spending important occasions together with family; and the customs of making New Year's visits and returning home to one's parents after marriage helps to maintain important social bonds between friends and families. Taboos may perhaps be seen as ancient ways of harmonizing and regulating one's lifestyle. Thus, preserving and incorporating the values of these New Year traditions into modern day life is a goal Chinese people strive for.