Spring Festival, which falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month, is the most important festival in China and a time for family reunion, like Christmas in the West.
Traditionally, Spring Festival starts in the early days of the 12th month of the lunar calendar and lasts until the middle of the 1st lunar month of the following year. With the modernization of China, some traditional customs are still followed today, but others have fallen by the wayside.
Here are some customs that traditionally celebrate the Spring Festival.
Day 23 of the 12th month
Little New Year, which falls the 23rd day of the 12th month in the Lunar calendar, is also known as the Festival of the Kitchen God, the deity who oversees the moral character of each household.
People make sacrifices to the Kitchen God on this day. A paper image is burnt dispatching the god's spirit to Heaven to report on the family's conduct over the past year. The Kitchen God is then welcomed back by pasting a new paper image of him beside the stove.
Day 24 of the 12th month
Families undertake thorough house cleaning on the 24th day of the 12th month in the Lunar calendar, sweeping out the old in preparation for the coming year.
According to tradition, ghosts and deities must choose either to return to Heaven or to stay on Earth during the last month of the year. It is believed that to ensure the ghosts and deities' timely departure, people must thoroughly clean both their bodies and their dwellings, down to every last drawer and cupboard.
Day 25 of the 12th month
People turn the mill and make tofu on the 25th day of the 12th month in the Lunar calendar, as legend says the Jade Emperor will descend and taste the soybean curd residue to experience an austere life.
According to Taoist mythology, the Jade Emperor is the Taoist ruler of Heaven and all realms of existence below, including that of Man and Hell. He is one of the most important gods of the Chinese traditional religious pantheon.
Day 26 of the 12th month
The folk saying goes: "butcher a pig and get some meat to prepare for the New Year feast" on the 26th day of the 12th month in the Lunar calendar.
In the old days, many people could not afford meat and they saved the best for the New Year feast. People's livelihoods have improved greatly and meat is now a very common dish in daily diet, but the Chinese still prefer having meat during festival season.
Day 27 of the 12th month
People kill chickens and go to market to buy provisions for the Spring Festival on the 27th day of the 12th month in the Lunar Calendar. With the approach of the Lunar New Year, Chinese people prepare ingredients and food they need for the New Year feast. Chicken is an indispensible dish.
Day 28 of the 12th month
After people have cleaned the house and started preparing food, they begin decorating their homes creating an atmosphere of rejoicing and festivity on the 28th day of the 12th month in the Lunar Calendar. Decorations include spring couplets, New Year pictures, posters of door gods and paper-cuts.
Day 29 of the 12th month
On the 29th day of the 12th lunar month people visit the graves of their ancestors to honor their memory. It is said Spring Festival originated in the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC-c. 1100 BC) from the people's sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the end of an old year and the start of a new one.
Day 30 of the 12th month - Lunar New Year's Eve
Chinese people are supposed to stay up the whole night on the 30th day of the 12th month in the Lunar Calendar
In Chinese mythology, a monster called nian would come out to harm people on New Year's Eve, so people get together, staying up and chatting, hoping for a peaceful passage of time. The custom of staying up (Chinese: shou tai sui) symbolizes the warding off of all diseases and disasters and wishing good luck in the New Year.
Chinese people attach great importance to the Spring Festival Eve, when all family members eat dinner together.
New Year's Day
The first day of Chinese New Year, also known as the "day of chicken", officially begins at midnight.
It is traditional to light firecrackers and make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil monster nian.
Most importantly the oldest and most senior members are visited with the visits strengthening family kinship.
Senior members of the family hand out red envelopes containing cash (Chinese: ya sui qian), a form of blessing and to suppress aging and the challenges of the coming year, to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers.
Day 2 of the 1st month
On the second day, married daughters usually go back to their own family to visit parents, relatives and close friends. Traditionally, married daughters didn't have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.
Some believe the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats.
Day 3 of the 1st month
On the third day, an old saying goes: "A fat pig at the door", meaning the arrival of good luck and happiness.
Traditionally, the third day is known as "Chigou's Day". Chigou literally means "red dog", an epithet of "the God of Blazing Wrath", and it is considered an unlucky day to have guests or go visiting.
Folklore says the 3rd day is also "rat marriage day" (Chinese: lao shu qu qin), so people often go to bed earlier to give rats time for their wedding.