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Spring Festival
2004/10/27

China's traditional festivals have evolved through the centuries from past major events. For instance, long ago when people had a bountiful harvest, they gathered and celebrated their good fortune with gala performances. When natural disasters struck, they offered sacrifices to the gods and their ancestors, hoping for a blessing. The change of the seasons, flowers in spring, and the bright moon in autumn could all arouse their longing for a more beautiful life. Thus, creative activities were held to signify these events, gradually these activities developed into festivals. The most important festival in China is the Spring Festival. It is said that the Spring Festival evolved from an activity known as the Winter Sacrifice. It was a custom practiced by the people of primitive society.

As the cold winter began to recede and the warm spring was about to begin, the people of an entire clan gathered together. They brought out their bounty from hunting, fishing and the field. They thanked the gods for the blessings of nature, including the mountains, rivers, the sun ,moon and stars, they thanked their ancestors, then they shared and enjoyed the sumptuous bounty of the land, sea, air and fields as they ate, danced and sang heartily.

In the beginning, their activity had no fixed date. But usually it was held at the end of each winter. Gradually, through the years, it was celebrated at the end of the old year or the beginning of the new. With the changes and disingtegration of primitive society, the form and content of the Winter Sacrifice also changed. Ultimately, it became a festival to bid farewell to the old year and welcome in the new year. So it came to be called the Spring Festival.

All the traditional festivals in China are based on the Chinese lunar calendar. The Spring Festival marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year. In Chinese, we also say Guo Nian, meaning keeping off the monster of Nian.

There are many legends about the origin of Nian, The most popular one is this. It is said that Nian was a fierce monster back in ancient times. It looked like a strong bull with a head like that of a lion. Usually the monster stayed deep in the mountains and caught and ate other beasts. But during the winter, it could not find enough food. So it came out of its mountain lair and entered villages to eat whatever it could catch. Villagers became very frightened and moved away to escape the ferocious monster. But later the people found that even though it was fierce, Nian was afraid of three things: the red color, a bright flame, and a loud noise. After learning this, they figured out how to prevent Nian from entering their villages.

Just before Nian came again, every household painted their door red and burned a fire in front of their door-ways. Besides, the people did not go to bed. Instead, they stayed up all night beating on things to make a loud noise. Ever since, Nian has never again come to the villages.

Thus, a tradition was established and the customs have been kept through the years.Later,the people found that bamboo could make a crackling sound when

burned.In time,the nose of crackling bamboo was replaced with bang of firecrackers. This is how the Chinese people began to set off firecrackers for the Spring Festival.

Since the Sping Festival marks the first day of a brand new year, the first meal is rather important. People from north and south have different sayings about the food they eat on this special day.

In Northern China, people usually eat Jiaozi or dumplings shaped like a crescent moon. It is said that dumplings were first known in China some 1,600 years ago. Its Chinese pronunciation Jiaozi means midnight or the end and the beginning of time.According to historical records, people from both northand south ate dumplings on Chinese New Year's Day. Perhaps because Southern China produced more rice than any other area, gradually, southern people had many more other choices on New Year's Day.

In additon to Jiaozi, the most common foods for the first meal of the Spring Festival are noodles, New Year Cakes and Tangyuan, a kind of round sweet dumplings. Both the cakes and dumplings are made of glutinors rice flour.

In China, the noodle symbolizes longevity. The New Year Cake is called Nian Gao in Chinese. It conveys the hope of improvement in life year after year, the round sweet dumpling is a symbol of reunion.

To pay a New Year visit is an important event during the Spring Festival. In olden times, high-ranking officials would go to the court to wish the emperor a Happy New Year. The entire clan would hold a ceremony. However,the most frequent visits were those between relatives and friends. This activity would continue for several days.

Beginning in the Song Dynasty in the tenth century,people began to send cards to express a New Year's greeting. At first, the sending of New Year's cards was limited to the circle of people in high positions. So it was also a way to show off one's social status. However, at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, ordinary people also began to exchange cards. The practice continues today during the Spring Festival.

As for recreational activities duning the Sping Festival, we can use two words to summarize:various and colorful. The Dragon Dance and Lion Dance are traditionally performed during the festival. The dances do not have to be perfomed during the festival. The dances do not have to be performed by professionals. Sometimes the perfomers are famers, street vendors or craftsmen.

Walking on stilts is another traditional perfomance event popular in China, especially in the northern part of the country. According to the archives,our Chinese ancestors began using stilts to help them gather fruits from trees. This practical use of stilts gradually developed into a kind of folk dance. Today's skillful perfomers can perform truly amazing feats and extremely difficult movements on stilts .The professionals even put on dramas while walking about on stilts.

If you are not a stilt-walker yourself, or can not do a dragon or lion dance, never mind! During Spring Fesstival time, you can go to temple fairs and enjoy superb performances of the dances, stilt-walking and amazing acrobatic shows. You can also try and enjoy the many varieties of local snack foods.

Nowadays, most people in China's rural areas still hold to these traditional celebrations, However, as the bace of life continues to quicken in the cities, urban residents have taken up new ways to celebrate the Chinese traditional New Year. For example, many city dwellers no longer bother to send out greeting cards. Instead, they use the telephone or pagers to convey greetings to relatives and

friends.To travel during the New Year holidays is another fashionable trend.And whatshould be mentioned, too, is that for safety reason, firecrackers were banned in some large cities of China a few years ago, making the occasion much quieter than before.

It seems that all our traditions are facing new challenges. Maybe when the children of the next generation grow up, they can only leam about Chinese traditions from books.

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