New Year's Eve refers to the last day of the twelfth lunar month, which is connected to the first day of the first lunar month next year.
New Year's Eve holds special significance for Chinese people. On this important day at the end of the year, even those who are far away from home will rush back to reunite with their families. They bid farewell to the old year amidst the sound of firecrackers and welcome the new year with fireworks filling the sky.
1.New Year's Eve Dinner
The New Year's Eve dinner, also known as the reunion dinner, has been a tradition since at least the Southern and Northern Dynasties. People in the northern regions often set up a hotpot in the middle of the table, hence it is also called "wei lu" or "gathering around the stove".
The dishes for the New Year's Eve dinner in the northern regions often include dumplings, fish, rice cakes, and longevity vegetables. Dumplings symbolize wealth and prosperity as they resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots. Fish is a must-have dish, and it is intentionally left unfinished as the word for "fish" in Chinese sounds similar to the word for "surplus", symbolizing abundance and prosperity. Rice cakes represent the wish for continuous growth and improvement. Longevity vegetables are also included to symbolize a long and healthy life.
2.Spring Festival Couplets
It is said that the original form of Spring Festival couplets is what people called "peach characters." In ancient Chinese legend, two gods, Shentu and Yulei, would punish ghosts who harmed living people. So the folk carved their appearance or engraved their names with peach wood, and made them into "peach characters," which were placed at their doorsteps to ward off evil spirits. In the Song Dynasty, people began to write couplets on peach-wood boards, which were used not only to suppress evil but also to decorate the house. Later generations wrote couplets on red paper symbolizing good fortune, which were posted on both sides of doors and windows during the Spring Festival to pray for good fortune in the coming year.
In many parts of China, on this day, people will set up a sumptuous meal at home, light candles, and the head of the family will lead the descendants in paying respects to the ancestors. In some rural areas of northern China, paper money is also burned at home.
In the evening of New Year's Eve, incense and candles are lit in front of the ancestral tablets, fine wine is poured, and dishes are placed as the whole family holds a solemn ancestral worship ceremony, expressing the sentiment of "remembering and honoring the past". Only after the ancestors have "finished" the New Year's Eve dinner, can people start enjoying their own meal.
4.Staying Up Late on New Year's Eve
It is said that staying up late is to prevent the invasion of a unicorn-like creature. This creature is afraid of fire, red color, and loud noises. Therefore, people wear red clothes, light red lanterns, paste red paper, set off fireworks and firecrackers, burn incense, pray, and stay up all night, giving rise to the tradition of "staying up late".
Chinese lanterns were originated during the Western Han Dynasty over 1800 years ago. During the New Year's Eve period, people hang up red lanterns symbolizing reunion to create a festive atmosphere. On New Year's Eve, while staying up late, red lanterns are hung at the door, and the house is illuminated by bright red fires, candles, or oil lamps, as the family gathers around the table to chat.
Lucky money is one of the traditional customs during the Spring Festival. It is money given to the younger generation by the elders during the Spring Festival, which means to ward off evil spirits and bless with peace. Lucky money contains the elders' concern and sincere blessings for the younger generation. Up to now, the lucky money's implication of avoiding evil spirits has gradually faded. Elders give lucky money not only to hope that the younger generation can be healthy and safe in the new year but also to wish them progress in the new year.