It is Not Jan.1st, but Spring Festival that is considered the real New Year’s Day in China. The celebration of Spring Festival used to consists of a series of rituals that lasted for more than a month. Modern Chinese people have tailored the tradition by packing the most important celebration activities into a 7-day schedule. Spring Festival is a milestone where people farewell to the old year to embrace a  new one. Most importantly, it’s the time of a year for family gathering. Family members, despite how physically remote they are from each other, manage to go home to spend the New Year’s Eve together.

Robby, an American student abroad in China, took the following pictures when he celebrated Chinese New Year with his host family. The captions are pieces selected from his Journal: My Chinese Experience.  Ming, a Chinese high school student, is his host buddy.

贴春联 Put up red couplets I followed Ming to his house. His family were putting up red couplets on the door. I was confused about why people put up couplets as well as why the couplets were in red. Ming told me that red is the lucky color for Chinese people, a color believed to keep away evil spirits and bring good luck and fortune. The Chinese characters on the couplets were new-year wishes.

年夜饭 New Year Eve’s Dinner I had a ton of delicious food with Ming’s family tonight. Ming’s parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins gathered around a round table full of delicious food. I learned that the shape of the table, a circle, is a symbol for gathering. It carries the hope that all family members will always be together. Another interesting thing I learned about New Year Eve’s Dinner has to be: the more food, the merrier! The table was so stuffed that I was afraid it’s going to break. Chinese people love it because more food means a greater harvest of the year.

烟花 Firework After diner, the entire family went out to see New Year firework. The city government sets off a large scale of firework on ever New Year’s eve. It was very pretty. The colorfulness of the firework stands for blossom of the new year (吉祥 Ji Xiang).

压岁钱 Red-pocket money After the firework show, I sat down with the family to watch the annual Spring Festival Celebration on CCTV. I was surprised when Ming’s grandpa approached me to give me a red pocket that felt like it had money in it. I was about to open the pocket as I usually did when I was given a gift. However, Ming stopped me and told me that the red pocket was supposed to be kept under my pillow for the entire New Year’s eve, and that I could only open it the next morning. I also learned that what matters was not the money in the pocket, but the red pocket itself, for it’s believed to ward off ghosts and bad luck in order to keep kids healthy, safe, and happy. Anyways, it is free money! Chinese kids are so lucky!

放鞭炮 Firecrackers When the New Year’s bell rang, Ming and his cousins rushed out of the house to set off firecrackers. All neighbors were setting off firecrackers, too. It was so loud that I was almost deafened. Ming explained that the loudness of firecrackers were believed to scare away an animal called Nian that carried evil spirits. It was an ancient belief. People nowadays don’t do it to scare away Nian anymore. However, they still follow the tradition to set off firecrackers as loudly as possible to bring in fortune.

送礼,走亲戚 Send new-year wishes to relatives by exchanging gifts  I opened my eyes to see sunlight casting through the curtains: today is New Year’s Day, the big start of the year(大年初一 Da Nian Chu Yi)!  Ming’s dad drove us to a rural village where most of their extensive relatives live. Ming and his parents carried a dozen of gifts. Why? They were going to send new year wishes(拜年 Bai Nian) to their relatives, a ritual of which the exchange of gifts was the biggest thing. Why did they have to carry so many gifts? Well, they needed to visit Ming’s grandpa’s brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. After that, it’s relatives on Ming’s grandma’s side…Long story short, they Bai Nian at least one hundred people today! Whew, so many people!

磕头拜年 Send new-year wishes to the elders by kowtow Ming and his cousins bowed down their head to the ground for three times (磕头 kowtow) to their grandparents’s brothers and sisters. I have never seen people doing this before. Ming told me that it’s the Chinese way to send New Year wishes to the elders, which showed great respect. However, in modern China, this ritual is only practiced in villages, but rarely in cities.

I threw my tired body into the cozy bed after a busy “big start of the year” day. Chinese people celebrate New Year with a lot of redness, loud firecrackers, and tons of food. Moreover, wherever I went, there were dozens of people doing one thing together.  It’s nothing like how we celebrate new year in the States. I wonder where all these differences come from. Spring Festival is just one manifestation of Chinese culture. I think that culture not only determines rituals of holiday celebrations, but also shapes people’s daily behaviors. So I am now thinking about this even bigger question: how do Chinese people think and act differently from Westerners? And how does understanding and respecting the differences help improve cross-cultural communication?


Further China Resources:

Culture Kit:

China Culture Kit


Wuzhen, ancient Chinese water town

Picture Files:

How People Celebrate New Year in China


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