It is safe to say the Chinese New Year celebrations are known around the world in all countries big and small because of one reason. They are the biggest celebration of the Chinese calendar. The Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, celebrated in spring, has been celebrated for over 3000 years in China and around the world and lasts 7-15 days.
The Chinese New Year celebrations begin on the first New Moon of the lunar calendar and end on the first Full Moon. Therefore the exact date of this festival changes every year and can fall anytime in January and February depending on the moon cycle.
Folklore tells of a mythical lion like beast Nian, meaning year, who would feast on the flesh of humans and livestock every year after rising from the sea. It was eventually discovered that the beast Nian did not like the colour red, loud noise or fire. This altered the New Year celebrations forever as houses and shops became decorated in red, firecrackers are featured predominantly in celebration and lanterns are lit at this time, still today as protection from this mythical beast.
As New Year approaches homes and cities are cleaned to dispel any bad luck that may be lingering around. Red lanterns and floral arrangements are placed heavily around and people will travel back to their home towns to be with family.
The first few days of the New Year are spent with family and close friends. Red money envelopes are gifted to children and unmarried adults and gods and deities are worshiped or given offerings. Food is a big custom at this time such as with western cultures and Christmas dinners. A lot of dishes are created based on their symbolic nature such as fish for good fortune. Dumplings and scallops are cooked to resemble money to offer in abundance for the new year. Other common foods are prosperity cake and sticky rice balls.
Family celebrations and religious rituals are held on the first day to honour the ancestors. During the long days of celebrations people will dance, eat, meet up with more family and friends, set off firecrackers and attend parades like dragon dancing.
On the last day is the Lantern Festival. On this night families light colourful lanterns in their homes.
The Chinese New Year also marks the new cycle of the Chinese Zodiac, where one animal of the zodiac will be celebrated for the year to come. The Chinese observe the importance of the cycle of the zodiac so much that some families will do certain things dependent only on what year they are in or going into - even having babies in certain cycles because of the temperament associated with that animal!