There's probably nothing about Chinese culture I get more questions about than Chinese New Year. Since it's such a big thing, TV news worldwide report about it every year, and then I always get all sorts of questions from my friends about it. The Lunar New Year is the most important event in Chinese culture and in several Asian countries. It's something like our Christmas, with family get-togethers. Given the amount of Chinese from the countryside who moved to the cities in these last two decades, China experiences at this time the biggest yearly human migration in the world, with hundreds of millions of people traveling home for the occasion and with public transport collapsing almost every year. Once, a friend who owns several factories in China told me an interesting story that can make you understand just how important these festivities are for Chinese people. Some factory workers opt to leave some days before the official holidays (which last for 10 days in mainland China), even if this means having to quit their job, since they can't get any holidays other than the public ones. After the Chinese New Year, around a month later, they come back to the city and ask for a job at the same factory again. It doesn't matter to them that when they submit a new application they start with the lowest salary, even if before quitting their salary was higher. To them it's all worth it.
Something my friends love to ask about is the Chinese zodiac, and all this thing about the year of the dragon, the monkey, the snake... The legend says the Emperor announced from then forward 12 animals would represent each of the following 12 years, and like this for the rest of the days. The 12 animals who arrived at the meeting point first, would be the chosen ones. The cat and the rat were travelling on top of the ox and were ahead of all the rest. But by the time they almost arrived to their destination, the rat pushed the cat to the river, jumped from the ox and run to meeting point. That's why cats hate rats and why the rat is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac. I think there's a story for every of the animals, like why the Dragon being so big and fast didn't make it the first. Anyway, the final order was this: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It is believed that babies adopt the qualities of the animal of the year in which they are born, and that's why there's always a baby-boom in Chinese societies in year of the Dragon, because it's the best of them all. I think after the Dragon, the Tiger and the Horse are the most desirable ones. May I poon out that the hubby and I are tigers and Liam is a horse :D The Goat is one of the least desirable zodiacs, which is why a massive amount of C-sections where scheduled for before the end of the Horse year. Crazy!
A common misunderstanding is regarding New Year's Eve. My western friends ask me what I'll be doing for Chinese New Year's Eve, as if it were just like the night of December 31st in Europe, dancing all night long in a club with some friends. The last day of the Chinese year is nothing like that! That evening it's a tradition to go to the flower market, a pop-up market that lasts for the last three days of the year, with flower stands as well as toys and all kind of accessories. All things related to the animal of the new year are always a big hit, understandably. As for the flowers, I think more flowers are sold these days than during the rest of the year altogether, as it is a tradition to decorate the house with flowers for the festive season.
Also, it's common to write fai chun, or greeting messages, in red paper to hang on the door or windows for good luck. This is me in 2011 writing some!
The last dinner of the year and the first meal of the new year are important ones, and as such should be eaten at home. The rest of the first and second day of the year is dedicated to family gatherings, but not the third day, which is believed to be a day in prone to arguments. In these family gatherings, people play mah-jong, and get and receive red packets or laisee. Red packets are small red envelopes with money inside that are given by the older generations to the younger ones. Couples who married also need to give laisee to their single friends and relatives. Kids, and specially babies celebrating their Chinese New Year for the first time, get LOTS of red packets. It's customary to wish people good luck when giving and receiving laisee, by saying 4 character greetings, which are actually the same ones we write in the fai chun. They can cover lots of topics: health, wealth, beauty, family, business... I love to learn new ones :)
The truth is I could write a whole blog on the Chinese New Year festivities, there's just so much to it! Hopefully you found these ramblings interesting :)