The Spring Festival




banner ancient firecracker
beast lively festivity
swell chilly livestock
scare ravage abundance
crop kick off tradition
ghost originate gunpowder
lunar spirit monster
loud bamboo explosion
issue variety upside-down
prance familiar backwards
rigor combine courage
tail couplet authority
ritual legend accompanied by
usher find out play on words
pluck persist prosperous
sparkle fragrant customary
packet etiquette dumplings






Hello and welcome to this edition on Chinese New Year on Discovery China.

Today we will be taking you through some of the most important traditions of the Chinese New Year, and their historical background.

We look at some of the legends behind the Chinese New Year. And how it is celebrated here in the US and by Chinese across the world.

The Chinese have a very specific way of celebrating the New Year.

If you walk down the street in Chinatown during Chinese New Year, you see a variety of ancient traditions such as red banners, firecrackers and lion dance performances.

The streets are filled with lively celebrations.

However, legend has it that the New Year has not always been a time of festivities.

An ancient Chinese story tells a chilly start to this festive holiday. It begins with an ancient Chinese beast call Nien.

Every new year, Nien would rise from the swelling of the sea to ravage Chinese villages, eating livestock and hurting people.

The villagers soon found from a wise, gray-haired old man that the only way to scare the beast away was to set off firecrackers and light lamps and to hang red banners on each door.

As the story goes, this was the beginning of a tradition that would last thousands of years.

So this story led to the creation of many other traditions for celebrating Chinese New Year.

Let’s take a look at some of these traditions.

Margaret tells us why fireworks are so important to kick off the New Year celebrations.

For many Chinese, New Year celebrations would not be the same without firecrackers. This tradition originates from ancient China, as the Chinese invented gunpowder as early as the ninth century.

It was believed that ghosts, bad spirits — and even a legendary monster called Nien that came out to attack people during the New Year — were afraid of loud noises.

So the ancient Chinese would fill bamboo stems with gunpowder to make small explosions to drive away Nien, evil spirits and bad luck.

Another popular, traditional belief is the noise from the firecrackers would awaken the sleeping dragon that would then fly across the sky, bringing plentiful rain to their crops.

Today in most countries, for safety issues, it is illegal to light firecrackers. But this tradition persists.

To make it safe and enjoyable for the public, various Chinese organizations have organized firecracker celebrations as part of the annual cultural activities.

Since 2000, the Chinese American community in New York City has been organizing the Chinatown Lunar New Year Firecracker Ceremony that attracts more than 200,000 visitors.

Another way Chinese scare off evil monsters in the New Year is the Lion Dance. Let’s now find out more about this Chinese tradition.

The Lion Dance is familiar sight on the streets of Chinatown during Chinese New Year celebrations.

This is a traditional lively dance that combines art, history and culture with the rigors of Chinese martial arts movement.

The two dancers form the lion. One holds the lion’s head and forms the front part of the lion’s body, while the second forms the body and the tail of the lion.

Together the prance about to the rhythm of drums, symbols and a gong.

The lion symbolizes strength, courage and authority. According to traditional Chinese belief, loud music can frighten away ghosts, evil spirits and Nien, the Chinese legendary monster that would come out and attack and kill people during the New Year.

Today the lion dance is performed to usher in the new and prosperous year. It involves the ritual of the lion plucking in the greens or tsai tsing. The Chinese word tsai, to pluck, sounds like the word for wealth, also pronounced tsai.

Thus, a typical performances involves the lion plucking vegetables that are placed on a table or hung from a ceiling or red packet outside a business premise.

This auspicious ritual is believed to bring in good luck and wealth to the business.

If you walk about a Chinese village during the New Year, you will see a lot of red banners stuck on people’s doors.

Now these banners are messengers of good fortune for the New Year.

An old Chinese tradition of hanging banners on New Year, is one of the methods used to scare away the beast Nien.
Now these banners contain auspicious messages of good will and harmony when the Lunar New Year comes around.

Some of the banners contain poetic Chinese couplets, known as Spring Couplets. These are placed on the entrance of houses in the Chinese New Year.

These Chinese couplets, which are sometimes accompanied by a third idiom, located on the top of a door.

Here is a common chun lien about the coming of spring.

Winter is gone. The mountain is clear and the water sparkles. Spring comes and birds sing and flowers fragrant. The whole Earth returns to spring.

Another common banner is the single character, spring, or good fortune, fu, except they are posted upside-down.

This comes for a play on words. The Chinese character for backwards or upside-down, dao, is pronounced the same way for arrive.

So if you have the banner for spring upside-down, it implies that spring has arrived, Chun Dao.

A common Chinese saying which is seen on many banners also contains a play on words. When read aloud, it sounds like “fish every year.” The meaning of this saying actually comes from another homophone.

The Chinese character, yu, which means fish, sounds exactly like the Chinese character for abundance, so the banner means “abundance throughout the year”.

Sometimes it is written as abundance, sometimes as fish, usually accompanied by fish swimming around a poster.

Whether its abundance throughout the year, or just the abundance of fish throughout the year, the Chinese have always like to paste these banners on holiday seasons.

Though there is no longer the looming threat of Nien, the beast, people still hang these posters to wish people joy, prosperity and good fortune throughout the year.

Ben: So Alina, for Westerns, Christmas is our most important celebration — we get lots of presents. What do you guys get at Chinese New Year?

Alina: Well Ben, we give each other red packets with money inside.

Unlike the Western custom of giving presents, in Chinese New Year, it is a customary practice to give and receive red packets. This is a small, red, rectangular envelope for putting money in to give away as presents.

The envelope is red because in Chinese traditional culture, red is a lucky color. It is believed to ward off evil spirits and to bring good fortune to the receiver.

And most red packets are decorated with auspicious Chinese symbols and characters such as happiness and prosperity.

These packets come in all kinds of designs besides the more traditional ones. Traditionally the older generation gives the red packet to the younger generation.

Parents, grandparents and married members a family would give the red packet to the children and grandchildren and unmarried family members.

Nowadays, this practice extends to close friends, neighbors, and even some companies give away year-end bonuses in red packets.

The amount of money placed inside a red packet varies, depending on the relationship between a giver and the receiver — but it must be in even numbers. Amounts starting or ending with 8 is common.

Eight or ba in Chinese symbolizes prosperity because it rhymes with the character fa in the phrase fa cai which means to generate wealth.

It is also customary to use brand-new notes for the red packet.

Finally an important piece of etiquette: on receiving the red packet, is not to open it in front of the giver.

Ben: In some ways, I prefer a red packet to buy whatever I wanted.

Alina: Well don’t they say it’s the thought that counts?

Yeah . . .

Anyway, Chinese New Year is not just one day like Christmas; the celebrations actually go on for 15 days, with different traditions on different dates.

What’s your favorite day of the Chinese New Year?

Well Ben, I would have to say it’s New Year’s Eve, when families gather and make dumplings together. What about you Ben?

For a Westerner, I’ve certainly had my fair share of Chinese New Year celebrations.

When I lived in Hong Kong as a child, my favorite day was the last day of New Year, or Lantern Festival. We used to go to the beach with lanterns; and when I spent a year studying in Taiwan, I found out that the Taiwanese go to town even more with the lanterns.

Now when I was living in Taiwan, I lived with a Taiwanese host family. And during the New Year, we spent many days eating.

My host family even gave me red packets.

One my favorite New Year’s foods was tang yuen. It’s a sweet rice ball with black sesame or peanut sauce inside and it’s served in a sweet soup.

It’s normally served on Lantern Day, my favorite day.


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Lunar New Year.
Is the Spring Festival only about feasting, or does it involve many customs and traditions?

Valentine’s Day.
The origins of the Chinese New Year celebrations is purely decorative and festive. Yes or no? What can you say about Nien, ghosts, evil spirits and the sleeping dragon?

The lion dance and fireworks have become a tradition only in (mainland) China. True or false? Are the lion, dragon and Nien allies (friends), or adversaries (enemies)?

Easter Holiday.
In the Lunar New Year, is gold the main auspicious color? What does the color red represent?

Arbor Day.
Is roasted turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie eaten in New Years?

Earth Day.
People traditionally exchange presents of toys, clothes, decorations. Is this correct or wrong?

Mother’s Day. Should people open a gift in front of the giver?

Summer Vacation.
Does the Spring Festival last one day? What happens on the first few days of the Lunar New Year? What happens on the last day?
Independence Day.
Is the Spring Festival celebrated in your town or city? Is it similar to the video?

Workers’ Day, Labor Day. Is there a Chinatown or other ethnic communities in your city?

What are the biggest and most important holiday or celebration in your culture or country?

Are there customs to increase luck in your culture? What are some ways to increase good luck?

What might happen in the future?

New Year’s Day.
What could or should people, organizations and governments do?

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