|New Year's Eve and New Year |
New Year's Eve is the day for people to eat, drink, entertain and enjoy themselves. To celebrate the New Year, the northerners have “jiaozi” and the southerners make “niangao” （New Year cakes）. “Jiaozi” is shaped like shoe-shaped gold or silver ingot, used as money in feudal China, while the Chinese characters 'niangao' is the homophone of 'High Year', meaning getting better year by year. So both “jiaozi” and “niangao” are good.
On New Year's Eve , all the family members sit around the table, enjoying the "New Year's Eve dinner", representing a happy family reunion. At dinner, the fish must not be eaten, for the Chinese character---fish is the homophone of "surplus", meaning we have surplus fortune every year. So 'fish' symbolizes the “luck and wealth” of the coming year. Fish on the dinner table is not a dish, but a decoration for the sake of good luck and fortune.
There is a legend about the origin of "year". In ancient times, our ancestors were subject to the threat of a most ferocious animal called “Nian”（year）, which lived on various kinds of animals. In winter when food was scarce in the mountains, “Nian” would intrude the villages to eat human beings and beasts of burden. People were frightened and on tenterhooks. People fought against Nian for many years, and they found Nian was afraid of three things: red color, fire and sound. Therefore, in winter people hung a piece of red peach wood at the door, lighted a pile of fire at the gate, beat gongs and drums heavily to make a loud sound, without sleeping throughout the night. One night Nian intruded into the village again and saw the red color and fire at every door and heard a thunderous sound. It was frightened and retreated to the mountains. From then on it dared not come out again. After the night was over, people gave congratulations to each other. They put up red lanterns and drank liquor and wine at feasts to celebrate their victory.
To celebrate the great victory people of every family would paste red paper couplets on the door panels, light red lanterns, beat gongs and drums, let off fireworks and firecrackers all through the night. Early next morning they would greet each other happily. Generation after generation, the day of Spring Festival came into being.
The high tide after the New Year's Eve dinner is the gift money given to children by the seniors （In Chinese the money is called Yasuiqian. Then Spring festival couplets and door god images are pasted on the doors. Then people close their doors and sit up throughout the night until the next morning when they open the door to usher in the 'God of Wealth'. The light is on all night on New Year's Eve, so it is referred to as 'bright year'.
The customs on News on New Year's Eve in various places are much the same, but some regions have their local features, for instance, in Suzhou, Beijing, Taiwan, etc.
In Suzhou, on New Year's Eve, people would sit up waiting to listen to the sonorous bell sound from Cold Mountain Temple, Maple Bridge. The tolling of the bell symbols the coming of the New Year. At present in the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, at midnight, the sound of the bell will travel to thousands of homes around Suzhou. It has become the information of time for the people of Suzhou, from both urban and rural areas.
The bell in the Cold Mountain Temple may go back to the Tang Dynasty when the famous poet Zhangji wrote his poem "mooring at night by Maple Bridge", which spread far and wide. The poem goes as follows: The setting moon, a cawing crow, the frost filled sky; River maples, fisherman's flares, and troubled sleep. From the Cold Mountain Temple, outside Suzhou; The tolling of the midnight bell reaches the wanderer's boat.
Now the old custom of dividing years by tolling the bell in the Cold Mountain Temple on New Year's Eve has never changed. The ancient bell has become the symbol of changing times.
In Beijing, people are even more busy on New Year's Eve, offering sacrifices to their ancestors, ushering in kitchen god and other gods. From the very beginning of memorial ceremony, the whole city is soaked in the deafening sound of fire crackers. Natives of Beijing would put some. Sesame stalks on their courtyard and tread on them. They call it 'caisui', meaning living a long life. There is a Chinese idiom: "Sesame stalk puts forth blossoms notch by notch, higher and higher". So sesame stalk might be a good omen for a better and better life. Natives of Beijing also make jiaozi on New Year's Eve and enjoy themselves throughout the night.
In Taiwan the last day of the lunar year is not called "year day". After noon sacrifices are offered in the shrine in the central hall. In the evening all the family would burn incense and kowtow before the shrine, in which are idols of gods, and ancestors' tablets. The juniors would give New Year's greetings to the seniors. Then follows the bumper New Year's Eve feast. Taiwanese call it 'weilu'- 'Round the Stove'. The whole family members sit around the table with a stove under it, enjoying the rich food happily. No matter how far away from home, the children in strange land would come back home to join the family reunion. After the year dinner they would light red candles high to stay up late till the New Year comes. Daughter-in-law would stay latest. The longer they stay, the longer the seniors can live, as is believed. That shows the filial piety of the children to their senior generations.