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恭禧發財 for the Year of the Dragon

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A dragon-design embroidery for the Chinese Lunar New Year in Singapore. Photo: China Daily / Agencies

The oldest and most important festival in China is the Chinese New Year, which marks the first day of the lunar calendar and usually falls somewhere between late January and early February of the Gregorian calendar.

Like all Chinese traditional festivals, the date of the New Year is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar, which is divided into 12 months, each with about 29.5 days. One year has 24 solar terms in accordance with the changes of nature, stipulating the proper time for planting and harvesting.

The first day of the first solar term is the Beginning of Spring, which cannot always fall on the first day of the year as in the Western Gregorian Calendar.

Besides celebrating the earth coming back to life and the start of plowing and sowing, this traditional festival is also a festival of reunions. No matter how far people are from their homes they will try their best to come back home for the reunion dinner.

The spring festival means fireworks and red couplets, dumplings in China’s north and glutinous rice cakes in the south, red wrappings with cash for children, and also no haircut until the start of the second lunar month.

In northern China, dumpling is an indispensable dish on the New Year dinner table. Experts say the snack was already popular in the Three Kingdoms period (220 – 280).

Many Chinese believe that to eat dumplings at the turn of the year will bring good luck, because the food resembles “yuan bao”, a boat-shaped gold ingot that served for many years in history as China’s currency.

Vegetables, meat, fish and shrimps can all make dumpling fillings. But some families put something special – from nuts and dates to coins – in just one of the dumplings. He who happens to eat this special dumpling is considered the luckiest person in the new year.

In southern China, where people prefer rice to wheat, families eat glutinous rice cakes instead of dumplings for the new year. These cakes, whose Chinese name “nian gao” (higher year-on-year), are also symbols of a prosperous new year.

Traditional lunar new year snacks are sold in a supermarket in Hengyang. Photo: China Daily / D J Clark

Red envelopes used to give Spring Festival money gifts and lunar new year wall hangings are sold in Hengyang market. Photo: China Daily / D J Clark

Sweets, toys and brushes are held high in Hengyang market, Hunan province. Photo: China Daily / D J Clark

A man grinds peppers in Hengyang market. Hunan's spicy foods are known throughout China. Photo: China Daily / D J Clark

Traditional Spring Festival snacks in Hengyang market, Hunan province. Photo: China Daily / D J Clark

Written by makanaka

January 21, 2012 at 23:30

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