The Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year, is the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. It is usually a fifteen day celebration, starting on the evening before the first day of the first lunar month and ending with the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day. Preparations start many days before, and families travel to celebrate together in a similar fashion to Westerners at Christmas.
The Chinese calendar is lunar, and works differently to the Gregorian calendar. The Spring Festival usually falls toward the end of January on the Gregorian calendar and is celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world with fireworks, lion dancing, dragon dancing and parades. The entire family gather together to eat and celebrate.
In preparation for the Spring Festival, people clean the inside and outside of their houses and everything within them, have their hair cut, pay off debts and buy new outfits. The cleaning of the home is thought to rid it of bad spirits and bring good luck for the coming year. Houses are decorated with red paper scrolls on which black Chinese symbols are painted, representing wishes for the New Year. On the night before, or "New Year's Eve," the family gathers together and celebrates with a big meal, often including Jiaozi, a traditional steamed dumpling.
At midnight, fireworks and firecrackers are let off, in the hopes of frightening away evil spirits and to welcome the New Year in. The first days of the Spring Festival are spent visiting family and friends to wish them well in the New Year. Gifts are exchanged and children are given money wrapped in red paper, often called "lucky money." New outfits are worn on these days.
Celebrations are held throughout the country and extend onto the streets. Parades, traditional dancing and music abound for the first five days and often longer. This applies also to the many Chinese communities living outside China, where the Spring Festival is celebrated with as much aplomb.
The end of the Spring Festival is marked on the fifteenth day, with the arrival of the full moon. On this night many lanterns are strung up, lion dances performed and feasts enjoyed, again often including the eating of dumplings. A popular activity at the Lantern Festival is the guessing of riddles, which are written on paper and placed on the lantern. If a person thinks they know the answer, they pull the paper off and go to the lantern's owner. If they are correct, they get a small gift.