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1.3 Billion Chinese Celebrate the Year of the Sheep  
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As the Lunar New Year draws nearer, 1.3 billion Chinese people become increasingly intoxicated in the festival atmosphere. Aunt Shang who lives in a quadrangle in Beijing’s Dongcheng (East City) District was taken to her daughter’s home for the festival one month before the New Year’s Day (which falls on February 1). Ren Xiaofeng, Shang’s neighbor in the same quadrangle, booked an air ticket two weeks before the festival day for the reunion with his family in Shanghai. Liu Jie, a wife and mother of a family of four in the quadrangle, made a list for her shopping. Several days before the festival, she went shopping everyday after work.

The Spring Festival marks the beginning of the new year on lunar Chinese calendar. The festival day, the first day of the first lunar month, usually falls one month later than the Solar New Year. And the coming lunar year is the Year of the Sheep.


The Most Important Traditional Festival in China


To the Chinese people, Spring Festival is as important as Christmas to people in the West.


According to the Chinese tradition, preparation for the festival starts from the beginning of the last lunar month and festival celebrations extend until the Lantern Festival on the 15th of the first lunar month. As a matter of fact, nowadays few Chinese people can afford spending a whole month on festival activities due to the fast-paced life. However, most of the working people can enjoy a week-long public holiday, during which the most important are the New Year’s Eve and the first three days of the first lunar month.

(来源:EnglishCN英语问答中心[e问e答])
There are many traditional ways to celebrate the Spring Festival, though some of them have not been passed down to date.


Among others, Laba (the eighth day of the lunar 12th month), and Jizao (Kitchen God Worshipping, on the 23rd of the 12th lunar month) are the two major events celebrated ahead of the Lunar New Year.


On the eighth day of the lunar 12th month, people cook delicious porridge with glutinous rice, millet, seed of Job's tears, red dates, dried longan pulp, beans and dried nuts. Nowadays packages containing these materials are available in the markets for consumers’ convenience.


The 23rd of the twelfth lunar month is commonly known as Xiaonian, or Minor New Year. It is the day to offer sacrifices to the Kitchen God. Appetizing food will be prepared to mark the coming of the New Year.


Preparations for the New Year begun after the Minor New Year include:


Sweeping and tidying up the room. Houses shall be thoroughly cleaned and all clothes and household utensils washed before the end of the year.


Pasting New Year Pictures. As an important school of traditional Chinese painting, the New Year Picture is printed with woodblock. With striking colors, elegant lines and impressive images, the subjects of New Year Pictures focus on abundant harvest, landscapes, flowers and birds as well as figures in folk or legendary stories. The custom of pasting New Year Pictures remains alive in rural areas. In cities, it is more popular to hang a new calendar on the wall, but there is a trend that New Year Pictures gradually return to city dwellers’ houses.


Pasting Spring Festival couplets. Spring Festival couplets, or duilian, refer to the Chinese calligraphy works of black characters on red papers, which people paste on gateposts or door panels to pray for good luck and happiness for the family. Many of them reflect the family’s wishes for good harvest, safety, unity and peace in the coming year.


Pasting the character Fu on the door and in the house. Fu means happiness. People of both rural areas and cities paste Fu on their doors to pray for happiness and good luck. Many families prefer to put the character upside down to symbol "down" or "come".


The preparations also include doing Spring Festival shopping and many other activities.


Then come the most important: the New Year's Eve and the New Year’s Day. On New Year's Eve, all the family members get together to feast. For food on the dinner table, some dishes are symbolic and must be provided, such as chicken, fish and bean curd, because their pronunciations can be related to “auspicious,” “surplus” and “happiness” respectively. After having the meal, the family members sit together chatting, playing games or watching TV. The CCTV's Spring Festival Evening Party is a popular program watched by people all over the country. Many families keep the custom to stay up until midnight to see the old year out and the New Year in.


Very early the next morning, on the New Year’s Day, people visit one another’s house, expressing their good wishes. This is called bainian, or greeting the New Year. When youngsters greeting people of the older generation, they receive gifts or hongbao, allowance put in a red envelope, which is called yasui qian. Now, everybody is happy – the older generation will be healthy, the youngsters will make progress and the family will be even better-off.


Lighting firecrackers used to be one of the most popular customs in the Spring Festival celebrations. Previously, it aimed at scaring away the ghosts and warding off evil spirits with the sharp cracks and bright lights. For safety’s sake, as well as for environmental protection, it has been banned in many cities. Some business people have found a smart way to replace the old practice by providing little balloons for people to tread on to create sounds similar to fireworks. Meanwhile, many families hang two strings of false firecrackers in the living room.


After the seven-day holiday, people go back to work. Yet the Spring Festival celebrations have not yet ended. On the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, they celebrate the Yuanxiao Festival, which is commonly known as the Lantern Festival.


The festival has a history of more than 1,000 years. On the eve of the Lantern Festival, the streets are full of happy children holding lanterns of various shapes originated from the palace lanterns. In many cities, lantern shows are held. People eat yuanxiao (rice dumplings) on the day to symbolize union of the family and a sweet life in the new year.


Varied Customs


Due to the vast territory of China, the customs for celebrating the Spring Festival are varied in different places.


In northern China, people usually eat jiaozi or dumplings (with meat and vegetable stuffing). Its Chinese pronunciation means to ring the old year out and the New Year in. Jiaozi shapes like the Chinese ingot (shoe-shaped gold or silver ingot used as money in ancient China), so it also represents people’s wish for good fortune. While for people in southern China, they prefer niangao (New Year cake). Just like jiaozi, niangao symbolizes “getting better and better with each passing year.”


Many of China’s ethnic groups celebrate their Lunar New Year around the same time as that of the Han people, but some of the minorities have their own calendars.

 
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