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Celebrating Chinese New Year

Lion dance in Boston's Chinatown during Chinese New Year 2007. (Image:  Rob Larsen  via   flickr  /  CC BY 2.0 )
Lion dance in Boston's Chinatown during Chinese New Year 2007. (Image: Rob Larsen via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

The eve of Chinese New Year signifies a farewell to yesterdays and a greeting to a new era, so for the Chinese people the most important thing to do on that day is to hold a ceremony for their gods and ancestors.

Besides having a reunion dinner and staying up until midnight, Chinese families usually begin to prepare offerings and light candles at noon to worship Buddha. This tradition is called Qi Xiang.

(Image: Chelsea Marie Hicks via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

Chinese New Year prayers. (Image: Chelsea Marie Hicks via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

Once the candles are lit, the flames cannot be extinguished until the fifth day of Chinese New Year. Moreover, an altar table, called tiandi zhuo in Chinese, is set up that day to welcome gods to Earth. The figure of the door god, as well as the couplets of the New Year, will also be posted. The sculpture of the kitchen god will also be worshiped.

These customs come from the Chinese tradition of piety toward gods. The couplets of the New Year originate from peach wood charms, which have been traditionally used to expel evil spirits. During the Five Dynasties period, the couplets of Chinese New Year were originally created by West Shu Master Meng Chang.

He wrote: “Enjoy the new year happiness brought by ancestral beneficence; relish the everlasting spring ushered by the festival,” on a pair of peach wood charms. The ceremony held by Chinese people on Chinese New Year’s Eve is not only an expression of ancient piety, but also expresses the inheritance of traditional values.

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Chinese New Year prayers at home. (Image: Marufish via flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

On the first day of Chinese New Year, people usually get up at dawn, dress neatly, and open their doors, with incense burning and firecrackers fizzling. In their yards, people prepare vegetarian food, fruits, tea, and wine to worship Heaven, Earth and their ancestors. This is called “making a good start to the New Year.”

During the New Year holidays, streets are alive with diverse activities, such as temple fairs, Chinese opera, dragon dances, lion dances, martial arts, and juggling activities. This atmosphere of celebration will last until the end of the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the Chinese New Year.

According to Chinese legend, the 15th day of the New Year is the birthday of Taoist Tian Guan the Great. People celebrate his birthday every year to pray for his blessings.

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Lantern Festival 2006 at Ontario Place. (Image: John Vetterli via flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

All of these customs are filled with the divine culture of people’s piety toward gods and the harmonious atmosphere of celebrating traditions.

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