Chinese New Year is the most important celebration of the year. It usually lasts 16 days, from New Year's Eve to the 15th day of the New Year – the Lantern Festival.
Most Chinese people stop celebrating in their homes on the 7th day of New Year, because the national holiday usually ends around then.
Celebrations in public areas, however, can last until the 15th day of New Year. The following is a detailed introduction of the day-by-day celebratory activities of Chinese New Year.
The 23rd or 24th day of the last lunar month (“Xiǎo Nián” 小年)
The 23rd or 24th day of the last lunar month, Little Year, also called “Xiao Nian” in Chinese, is the beginning and foreshadowing of the whole Spring Festival celebration. There are two major activities: worshipping the Kitchen God and cleaning houses.
Chinese New Year’s Eve: Family Reunion Dinners
With a history of 2,000 years or so, Chinese New Year’s Eve, which falls on the last day of the year according to the Chinese lunar calendar, is called “chú xī 除夕" in Chinese.
- Family Reunion Dinner: There is a significant regional difference in the way families celebrate the reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve: in the north, families are used to having this at home, while in the south families like to have it at a restaurant.
So if you want to celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve in the southern part of China, make sure you make a reservation at a restaurant ahead of time, or every restaurant will be full.
Day 1: Celebrating the Beginning of the Year
On the morning of the first day of Spring Festival, families first set off some firecrackers before going out, in order to drive away evil spirits.
On this day, the most important thing for Chinese is to “Bài Nián” (拜年, to wish a happy New Year) – people pay visits to relatives, friends and neighbors and to people of the older generation. This is a longstanding tradition in China, which began during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).
But now, thanks to advances in science and technology, making a ceremonial call or texting a message, instead of paying a visit in person, is becoming more and more popular, and can save a lot of time and energy.
Day 2: Visiting Friends and Relatives
The second day of Chinese New Year is also known as “Kai Nian开年” in Chinese, meaning the beginning of a year.
On this day, shops, businessmen and even ordinary families offer sacrifices to the God of Fortune whom they welcomed on Chinese New Year’s Eve, hoping to gain a great fortune in the coming year.
In addition, this day is also the day for welcoming sons-in-law. On this day, married daughters visit parental homes with their husbands. They bring gifts and red envelopes for the children in their parents’ home. And daughters (and sons-in-law) should have lunch in their parents’ home.
Day 3: Staying at Home
The third day of Chinese New Year is an ominous day, so people usually don’t go out. There are many other things people are traditionally forbidden to do, such as cleaning the house, making a fire, drawing water and so on.
With the progress of time, however, fewer and fewer people believe in such superstitions. More and more people just take this day as a precious opportunity for family reunion.
Day 4: Worshiping Gods
The fourth day is quite an auspicious day, a day to welcome the Kitchen God, the God of Fortune and other gods.
Families should stay at home to clean their houses and prepare abundant fruit, burn incense and light candles to welcome the gods.
In some rural areas in northern China, people light a fire on a stick and throw the stick into a river, to avert any fire disasters in the family in the year ahead.
Day 5: Festival of Po Wu
The fifth day is commonly known as the Festival of Po Wu (破五“Po” means ‘to break’). Many taboos can be broken on this day, hence the name. From this day on, women can drop around without inhibition and shops will return to normal.
- Origin: This day is believed to be the birthday of the God of Fortune so people celebrate with a large banquet. They also let off firecrackers in an attempt to attract the attention of the God of Fortune, thus ensuring his favor and good fortune for the year ahead.
Day 6: Driving Away the Ghost of Poverty
On the sixth day, people usually throw away their ragged clothes, rubbish and other dirty things, and light some candles to illuminate the road for the ghost of poverty and send him away, hoping to drive away poverty from the past and welcome beautiful days in the new year.
- According to legend, the ghost of poverty is a son of Zhuan Xu (颛顼, an emperor among the Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns of ancient China). He was short and weak, and liked wearing ragged clothes and eating poor-quality porridge.
Even when people presented him with new clothes, he would not wear them until he ripped them up or burned them. So, he was christened “the man of poverty”, and with time, he became the ghost of poverty.
Day 7: The Day of the Humans
According to legend, Nu Wa (女娲, a goddess in Chinese mythology) created human beings on the seventh day, so the seventh day of the Chinese New Year is commonly referred to as “Ren Ri” (人日the day of the humans).
- In ancient times, ladies and scholars would go for a spring outing on this day.
- People in some regions eat Qi Bao Geng (七宝羹, a thick soup with seven kinds of vegetable) on this day.
- In some rural places of Shandong Province, people also drive away fire disasters. They make torches with straw, light them and send them out of the village, to express their wish that there will not be any fire disasters in the year ahead.
Day 8: Celebrating the Birthday of Millet
The eighth day is believed to be the birthday of millet, an important crop in ancient China. According to folk proverbs, if this day is bright and clear, then the year will bring forth a good harvest; otherwise the year will suffer a poor harvest.
Day 9: The Birthday of the Jade Emperor
The ninth day is the birthday of the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝, the Supreme Deity of Taoism). According to Taoist legend, all the deities of heaven and earth celebrate this day. And there are grand ceremonies in Taoist temples.
- Setting off firecrackers continuously from midnight of the eighth day of Chinese New Year to 4 o’clock before dawn of the ninth day.
- Offering sacrifices to the Jade Emperor, before which the whole family will first take a shower, to show their respect to the Emperor.
Day 10: The Birthday of the God of Stone
The tenth day is the birthday of the god of stone. On this day, it is forbidden to move any stone, including stone rollers, stone mills and stone mortars, so it is also known as “Shi Bu Dong”(石不动, meaning ‘do not move any stone’).
In addition, it is also forbidden to cut into a mountain for rock or to build a house with rocks, or bad things will happen to the crops. On this day, families burn incense and candles for stones, and offer pancakes to the god of stone.
Day 11: Fathers-in-Law Entertain Sons-in-Law
The eleventh day is for fathers-in-law to entertain sons-in-law. There is a lot of food left over from celebrating the birthday of the Jade Emperor, so the leftover food can be used to entertain sons-in-law.
- Celebration: In Binyang County, Guangxi, this day is “Pao Long Jie” (炮龙节the Dragon Dance Festival). The dancing dragon in Binyang County is larger than those in other places.
At about 40 meters, the shorter dragons have 7 sections while the longer ones have 11 sections. One of the unique features of the dragon dance in Binyang is that it is accompanied in the streets by firecrackers.
Day 12: Preparing for the Lantern Festival
The twelfth day doesn’t have much significance. From Chinese New Year’s Eve to the eleventh day, the food people eat is mostly greasy and rich. So from this day on, people start to take a lighter diet.
- Families buy lanterns and build a lantern shack to prepare for the Lantern Festival three days later.
Day 15: Celebration of the Lantern Festival
Spend a New Year in China
Spring Festival is the most important celebration of the year to nearly all Chinese people. During the festival, people use the color red, representing good luck, to show their happiness.
If you join in the Best of China and Karst Landscape Tour during the Spring Festival period, you will see all the streets filled with lanterns and Spring Festival couplets. Taking a trip in China at Chinese New Year will be unforgettable.
In Beijing, whether in the Forbidden City or the hutongs, you can feel the happy New Year’s atmosphere, especially when talking to locals. In Xi’an, the Ancient City Wall hosts a horde of hanging red lanterns. In Guilin and Yangshuo, you will see tourist attractions decorated with lucky ornaments. And in Shanghai, festival decorations can be found even on the electronic screens.