Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the Rabbit is here

February 02, 2011 | Posted by Vicky

Chinese New Year -- also known as Spring Festival -- is represented by the color red and the upside-down Chinese character for "Spring."

Today is Chinese New Year's Eve, and midnight tonight ushers in the Year of the Rabbit.

The longest-lived and most important festival in China, Chinese New Year is observed throughout China and overseas Chinese communities. The festival starts on the Eve of Chinese New Year, when Chinese people generally all travel to their hometowns from wherever they have been living and working to spend the holiday with family and close friends, and ends at the day of Lantern Festival, which is on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year.

Spring Festival folk customs

During the Spring Festival, which is another name for Chinese New Year, Chinese people observe many different folk customs. Perhaps the most prevalent custom is the pasting of red-paper Spring Festival Couplets on the doorways of homes and other buildings. Spring Festival Couplets are poems that express the happy and hopeful thoughts for the coming year.

Perhaps more apparent to the casual observer of Chinese New Year are fireworks, which may be the second most prevalent custom of the festival. Fireworks in China date back to the 7th century, and in contrast with Western tradition where gunpowder and fireworks were often used for purposes for weapons, gunpowder and fireworks in China were widely used for purposes of celebration. Legend has it in China that fireworks may frighten away evil spirits with their loud sound, and so to date Chinese people have a tradition of using them to pray for happiness and prosperity at the time of Spring Festival.

Another important Spring Festival custom surrounds dumplings, the de facto food of Chinese New Year, especially in northern China, in which vegetables or meat are stuffed in tiny circular flour sheets. According to legend, an ancient Chinese doctor named Zhang Zhongjing invented dumplings about 1800 years ago. In addition to being easy to make and delicious to eat, dumplings are popular because their "wrapped up" contents symbolize little packets of wealth and good health.

Dumplings are also popular in southern China, but are of a slightly different variety, often described as sweet and round. It is said that round and sweet dumplings symbolize family reunion and the "sweet" life.

Temple Fairs

A busy temple fair at the time of Chinese New Year, above.

Temple Fairs are another great tradition of Chinese New Year. Temple Fairs -- which are particularly popular in northern cities like Beijing -- are large fair gatherings around places like temples that feature activities for shopping and watching traditional performances. In Beijing, many historical parks hold temple fairs during the Spring Festival, which easily attract tens of thousand of participants of all ages. In addition to entertainment, temple fairs abound with traditional Chinese culture and foods -- in fact, local Chinese will tell you that nothing conjurs up nostalgic memories of childhood or an earlier time like the sights and smells of a temple fair.

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