Chinese New Year
The Spring Festival, known as the Chinese New Year in Western countries, is an important Chinese holiday which marks the beginning of the Lunar Year. It lasts for fifteen days, and each day has a different meaning and celebration. The upcoming Spring Festival begins on February 14.
Some of the practices of the Spring Festival existed in antiquity, however the practices were formalized by Emperor Shun of the Han Dynasty. Emperor Shun followed a terrible emperor, and wished to reinvigorate his subjects. After consulting with the court astrologers, he sent messengers to announce that the problems of the court were due to evil spirits infesting the capitol. On the first day of the lunar new year, the people were instructed to dress in red (considered a lucky color even then) and make loud noise through singing and carousing to frighten the spirits away. Allegedly, the actual purpose of this edict was to improve morale by getting the people to celebrate life. Such celebrations were added to the imperial calendar the following year. This later inspired the four-character idiom "using fear to create closeness" (装疯卖傻).
A central element of the Spring Festival is sharing meals with relatives. Certain foods are traditionally served during the festival; these include jiaozi, niangao and fat choy. A fish dish is usually served on the first day. However, many families - especially Buddhist families - fast on the eighth day.
Throughout the week, older people distribute "lucky money" in red envelopes to children. Traditionally, the amount of money is based on Chinese numerology. For good luck reasons, the first number of the sum is always odd; however, the number four is often worked into the amount as well. In the United States, $4 and $14 are common sums.
Fireworks are an old tradition of the Spring Festival, dating to the first uses of gunpowder to drive off evil entities. Fireworks are available for sale during the Spring Festival and for several weeks after. Large fireworks displays can be seen during the first two days of the festival. Firecrackers are also quite common during the daytime hours. However, due to regulations fireworks are banned in many places, such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
Day of Blooms
The fourteenth day of the Spring Festival is sometimes called the Day of Blooms (新开花天). Traditionally, this was when farmers prepared for the new year's planting. A more recent tradition makes this a day for friends to play tricks on one another, similar to April Fool's Day. Allegedly, this is because the Day of Blooms marks the end of playfulness and the beginning of serious work.
The last day of the Spring Festival is called the Lantern Festival (元宵节). At night, children carry lanterns with riddles written on them to the temples. In some countries, there are large parades during the Lantern Festival.
Connections to the Zodiac
One of the most well-known elements of the Spring Festival in the West is the Chinese zodiac. On the New Year, a new animal of the zodiac becomes dominant. Decorations sold for the Spring Festival have common themes based on the year's zodiac animal. 2010 will be the Year of the Tiger.