Today marks the start of one of the most important festivals for the Chinese – the Spring Festival (chūn jié), otherwise known as Chinese New Year (guò nián)!
It is very important to the Chinese to spend this holiday with their family and so many return home during this time. This mass movement of people is considered the largest annual human migration and is known as the spring movement (chūn yùn). It is estimated that around 2.8 billion trips will be made during the festival.
The festival itself is celebrated from the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar (Chinese New Year’s Eve, which falls this year on 18th February) until the Lantern Festival (yuan xiāo jié or shàng yuán jié) on the fifteenth day of the first month (which this year falls on 5th March).
Prior to the start of the festivities, many people clean their home thoroughly, to sweep away the bad luck of the previous year and make ready their homes for the good luck of the coming year. They do not clean again in the first few days of the New Year, so as not to sweep away the good luck.
The celebrations then really start on New Year’s Eve with the reunion dinner (nián yè fàn). Families come together at the home of the most senior member and share a highly symbolic eight-course meal (as the number eight is considered to be lucky).
If you visit China during the time leading up to the festivities, you are likely to see red envelopes (hóng bāo) being sold. These are often filled with money (yā suì qián) and given as gifts during the New Year celebrations. The amount of money is an important consideration, with even numbers preferred, as odd numbers are reserved for funeral gifts. The number four is to be avoided as the word for it in Chinese resembles the word for ‘death’, whilst the number eight is considered lucky. The red colour of the envelopes is also symbolic, representing joy, virtue, truth and sincerity.
Other entertainments include setting off firecrackers (fáng biān pào) and lion dances (wŭ shī). Common greetings include gōng xĭ fā cái (‘congratulations and prosperity’) and xīn nián kuài lè or gōng hè xīn xĭ (‘happy New Year’).
This year is the Year of the Goat or Sheep. There is some dispute as to the exact animal, as the Chinese word, yáng, can refer to any member of the caprinae subfamily and there are a number of arguments supporting both the goat and the sheep.
There is a lovely story behind the creation of the Chinese zodiac (shēng xiào). It is said that the Jade Emperor (Yù Huáng) called the animals to a meeting and informed them that the he would name years in order of their arrival. To reach the meeting place, the animals had to cross a river. Rat (shŭ) and Cat were not strong swimmers, but were both wily and managed to convince the kind (and slightly naïve Ox (niú)) to carry them across. Just before they reached the shore, Rat pushed Cat into the water, where he struggled and ultimately failed to win the prize of having a year named after him (it is said that this is why cats hate rats and you really can’t blame them!). Rat then jumped from Ox’s back onto the shore, beating him to first place in the race and meaning that the first year was named after him. The manner in which the rest of the animals reached the shore is also indicative of their characters, read the full story here.
We arrange a number of school tours to China, covering a vast array of subjects, including art, business studies, geography, Mandarin, and leisure and tourism. We also arrange general and cultural tours to China, which are fantastic for introducing students to this ancient culture. Contact us for further information on how we can tailor-make a school tour to China to inspire and enthuse your students.