What is the Spring Festival in China?

February 28, 2020

Time to break out every article of red you own and stock up on your rat paraphernalia. Spring Festival is less than two weeks away, people!

If you are in China, you may have already started to feel the holiday spirit. If you haven’t, here is a bit of background to get you up to speed.

What is Spring Festival?

The Spring Festival in China is a seven-day celebration of the beginning of the Spring according to the Chinese lunar calendar. This also marks the start of a new year.

In Chinese, the Spring Festival is known as 春节 chūnjié. Other names for this holiday include Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year. Don’t let this fool you though—there are several nations in Asia that celebrate their own Lunar New Year.

When is it?

If you are looking at the Gregorian calendar, every year the Spring Festival falls on a different date. This is because the date of the festival is based on the lunar calendar and therefore changes with the cycle of the moon each year.

Usually Spring Festival is celebrated somewhere between late January and mid-February.

Is the Spring Festival related to the Chinese Zodiac?

Yes! Every year is represented by one of the 12 animals of the Zodiac. 2020 is the Year of the Rat, so be sure to wish all your friends born under the Rat an extra good year!

What are some Spring Festival traditions in China?

Family is very important in China, and this becomes most evident around the Spring Festival. Before gathering together for the New Year’s eve feast, families will clean their homes and decorate with red. Popular decorations include lanterns, Chinese knots (中国结), 福 characters, Spring Festival couplets (春联), and paper cuts.

Traditional Spring Festival foods include fish (which sounds like “surplus”, a good sign for the new year), spring rolls, dumplings, glutinous rice balls, and plenty of other delicious fare!

Other traditions include sending red packets (红包 hóngbāo)—decorative red envelopes filled with money in auspicious amounts. Numbers including 6 and 8 are popular. In the modern age, you can also send red packets via WeChat.

Families may also watch the annual Spring Festival gala on TV. This is a popular television special featuring musical performances, acrobatics, comedy sketches, and more.Finally, at midnight you can hear the boom of firecrackers! (Just not inside the 5th Ring Road or select districts of Beijing. Sorry, guys.)In the days and weeks which follow, it is customary to visit various relatives and friends to wish them a Happy New Year.People also flock to local temples for temple fairs, which include performances, games, food, and even religious ceremonies. (You may be familiar with the Dragon Dance, which is a common performance at many temple fairs.)

What is the history of the Spring Festival?

As the story goes, there was once a monster named Nian that terrorized a village every year on New Year’s Eve. Tired of being eaten and having their houses burned to the ground, the villagers decided to fight back.

They hung red banners all around the village and when Nian approached, the villagers banged drums and cymbals, and set off firecrackers. Afraid of the bright colors and loud noise, Nian fled and never disturbed the villagers again.

This is why firecrackers and the color red are so crucial to the Spring Festival celebrations in China.

Useful Spring Festival Phrases

Chūnjié kuàilè
Happy Spring Festival!

Guònián hǎo
Happy New Year!

tiē chūnlián
to hang Spring Festival couplets

tuányuán fàn
family dinner for Spring Festival

stay up late to welcome the new year

fà hóngbāo
to give a red packet

to pay someone a visit to wish them happy New Year

gōngxǐ fācái
Wishing you prosperity in the new year!

nián nián yǒuyú
May you have abundance every year!

wànshì rúyì
Wishing you all the best!