When we think about Chinese holidays, Chinese New Year comes to mind first. And, it should. That's because Chinese New Year is by far the largest, most festive holiday of the year. While we refer to it as "Chinese" New Year, it is widely celebrated in Asia and also cause for celebration wherever people of Chinese descent can be found in the world. When you stop and think about the fact that about 1/3 of the world's population is of Asian descent, that's a lot of celebrating! Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, is the celebration of the beginning of the lunar year of the Chinese calendar. It usually occurs in late January or early to mid-February. The Chinese calendar is different from the Gregorian(or western) calendar which begins each year on January 1st and ends on December 31st. The Chinese calendar based upon the (lunar) cycles of the moon and as a result, starts on a different date each year, between January 21st and February 19th. The lunar calendar repeats over twelve years.
Days before the New Year, every family is busy giving its house a thorough cleaning, hoping to sweep away all the ill-fortune there may have been in the family to make way for the wishful in-coming good luck. People also give their doors and window-panes a new paint, usually in red color. They decorate the doors and windows with paper-cuts and couplets with the very popular theme of "happiness", "wealth", "longevity" and "satisfactory marriage with more children". Paintings of the same theme are put up in the house on top of the newly mounted wall paper. In the old days, people put various kinds of food as tributes on the altar of ancestors.
The Eve of the New Year is very carefully observed. Supper is a feast, with all members coming together. One of the most popular course is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. "Jiaozi" in Chinese literally mean "sleep together and have sons", a long-lost good wish for a family. After dinner, it is time for the whole family to sit up for the night while having fun playing cards or board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, the whole sky will be lit up by fireworks and firecrackers make everywhere seem like a war zone. People's excitement reach its zenith. Very early the next morning, children greet their parents and receive their presents in terms of cash wrapped up in red paper packages from them. Then, the family start out to say greetings from door to door, first their relatives and then their neighbors. It is a great time for reconciliation.
Old grudges are very easily cast away during the greetings. The air is permeated with warmth and friendliness. During and several days following the New Year's day, people are visiting each other,with a great deal of exchange of gifts. The New Year lasts fifteen days when the Lantern Festival sets in.