The Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year, also known as the spring festival, is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The spring festival celebrates the start of new life and the season of ploughing and sowing. Like all Chinese festivals, the date of the new year is determined by the lunar and solar calendar. This means that the date of the holiday varies each year, from late January to mid February. Celebrations last for two weeks and end with the lantern festival. Each year in the Chinese Calendar is represented by one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, the Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
Preparations for Chinese New Year start well in advance of the celebration. Homes are cleaned from top to bottom to sweep away any bad luck from the previous year. Doors and windows in houses may get a new coat of red paint. On New Years Eve decorations made from red and gold paper are hung on doors to bring good luck. Messages of happiness, prosperity and long life are written on these decorations. Red is a lucky colour and gold is chosen because it represents wealth. Families enjoy a traditional meal together on New Year's Eve. There are different types of food depending on which region of China people come from. In the north, people eat djiaozi - a steamed dumpling and in the south nian gao - a sticky, sweet rice pudding. Families also make their homes nice and bright with lanterns. At midnight, the sky is lit up by fireworks.
On the main day of celebration, children waken up to gifts given by family and friends - money or sweets in red envelopes. These lucky envelopes are also known as Red Packets. Red clothes are worn for luck and people visit their friends and family. They greet each other by saying 'Kung Hei Fat Choy!', which means Happy New Year! Street celebrations often include a traditional lion dance. On the head of the lion is a mirror so that evil spirits will be frightened away by their own reflections. As the lion dances he looks out for green vegetables such as lettuce which are hung along the route of the parade. Hidden in the leaves is a red packet of money. The lion eats the red packet and throws the lettuce leaves around him to symbolise the brand new year and the spreading of good luck.
Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival on the fifteenth day of the month. The lanterns are often hand painted with scenes from history or legend and people enjoy the colourful scenes of music and dance.