Text by Zi Mo
As the most traditional festival of the Chinese nation that has been passed down for millennia, Spring Festival has developed various cultural icons with distinctive tones and auspicious symbolism, such as New Year pictures, paper-cuttings for window decoration, Spring Festival couplets, firecrackers, dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve, and red envelopes of lucky money for children. These cultural icons are at the heart of the festivities.
Paper-Cuttings for Window Decoration
In the past, residents across the country decorated their windows with paper-cuttings during Spring Festival. Today, the tradition is most prevalent in rural areas of North China. Paper cuts involve diverse subject matter, of which the most popular are flowers, animals, and other symbols for luck and good wishes.
New Year Pictures
Before the arrival of Spring Festival, Chinese people, especially residents of rural areas, paste brightly-colored New Year pictures on doors and interior walls of their houses. Traditional New Year pictures are woodblock prints. Today, they have been largely replaced by mass-produced pictures in some areas. Nevertheless, traditional woodblock prints remain one of the most representative genres of folk art in China.
As the young greet elders during Spring Festival, they will receive red packets containing money in return, which represent a prayer for children’s safety in the coming year.
The tradition of lighting firecrackers to celebrate Spring Festival can be traced back more than 2,000 years. At midnight of Chinese New Year’s Eve, many people light off long strings of firecrackers to welcome the New Year.
Spring Festival Couplets
Spring Festival couplets originated from “peach wood charms,” long, rectangular peach boards hung on each side of gates in ancient times, carrying names of gods capable of dispelling evil in Chinese mythology. Later, paper replaced the boards and the couplets evolved into prayers for blessings. In many regions of China, people begin to paste the couplets the day before Chinese New Year’s Eve.