A core Course of General Education An outline of the Traditional Chinese Culture 中国传统文化概览 Shandong University Contents

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The Spring Festival

The Spring Festival falls on the first day of the first month according to the lunar calendar, and it is regarded as the most important festival by the Chinese people.

Judging by the name, the present day Spring Festival has evolved from the Beginning of Spring of the 24 jieqi. The Beginning of Spring is typically a festival related to agricultural activities; it marks the end of the winter season and the beginning of spring. Later, people defined the beginning of the lunar year as the Spring Festival, and the Beginning of Spring has remained an agricultural activity festival.

There is a legend concerning the celebration of the Spring Festival. According to this legend, nian was a frightening monster, which was like an ox in shape and size. After a whole year’s hard work, people wanted to have a good time during the Spring Festival period. Unfortunately, on the eve of the Spring Festival, nian would invariably come out to eat people. Needless to say, the festival spirit was spoiled, and the passing of the Spring Festival was like an ordeal to people. Later people learned that the monster nian was afraid of the sight of fire and sound of firecrackers. So on the eve of Spring Festival, people would get together and sit around a fire; they would throw pieces of bamboo into the fire to make the desired sound so as to keep the monster away. When the Spring Festival came, they would congratulate each other on successsfuly going through an “ordeal”. Nowadays people still follow this practice by having family gatherings on the Eve of the Spring Festival. People fire firecrackers in the evening and around midnight, and start new year greetings soon after the Spring Festival begins.

There are various customs related to the Spring Festival. Following is an introduction of the major customs in Shandong Province. The first one is decorating houses and streets with lanterns and colorful streamers with the purpose of keeping evil things away; the second is firing firecrackers with the purpose as explained above; the third is eating jiaozi; the fourth is visiting relatives and friends, and the fifth is wearing colorful new clothes.

Chinese people value family reunion. Family members sitting together to eat jiaozi is a very important part of the Spring Festival. For natives of Shandong Province, no matter how far away they are from home, they always try their best to come back home for the family reunion. Jiaozi is shaped like the ancient silver ingot which symbolizes prosperity. In some parts of Shandong, it is customary for people to put peanuts, candies or coins inside some jiaozi, and people who eat them are believed to be lucky, either enjoying longevity, or enjoying a sweet and happy life or enjoying prosperity. Visiting relatives and friends is also an indispensable part of the Spring Festival. Normally, in the early hours of the Spring Festival Day, people start the greeting and visiting. They first pay their respect to their senior family members, then their relatives or neighbors. In some places, people of later generations kowtow to their seniors, and when children do this, they usually get some pocket money as a gift. Starting from the second day of the lunar month, people go out to visit their relatives and eat at their homes. In different places, there are different time sequences regarding the visits, but the third day is commonly regarded as a proper day for men to visit their in-laws. Chinese people have always attached great importance to the clothes they wear on Spring Festival day. In the past, when people couldn’t afford new clothes, they would, at least buy a new pair of shoes for a kid or get a new scarf for a woman. Today people are enjoying a much better life, and most people, including senior people, choose to wear new clothes on the Spring Festival day. By wearing new clothes, they proudly demonstrate the great improvement in their living standard.

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