If you visit China during the New Year, signs of the holiday will be obvious. New Year decorations are as popular there as Christmas displays are in the United States. Typical decorations include red banners and decorative symbols, such as an image of a toad with coins in his mouth, which help scare away evil and attract luck (and money). It's also common to print auspicious sayings on pieces of paper or banners -- usually two-line verses that welcome spring or ask for good fortune. The Chinese also display flowers everywhere, especially peach and orange blossoms, which in some parts of China are just beginning to bloom around the New Year.
Superstition also tends to play a big role in Chinese New Year celebrations. Although people don't believe in them as widely as they once did, superstitious traditions still add to the unique flavor of the holiday. For example, it's said that the first person you meet on New Year's Day will influence your luck for the entire year. Also, some believe that using a knife or scissors on New Year could cut off your luck. You should avoid breaking a dish or dropping a chopstick, which could bring bad fortune. And according to superstition, crying on New Year will fill your year with sorrow [source: Roth].
Many additional customs help set the tone for Chinese New Year celebrations, including the following:
- Dance and theater. Performances of dance, opera and theater are common activities at Chinese New Year celebrations. The Lion Dance is especially popular; it involves two performers putting on a lion costume and making wild twists and turns to the music of a band that features instruments like the gong, drum and cymbals.
- Fireworks. The Chinese spend about $3 billion each year on fireworks for New Year's celebrations. The noise from the displays is intended to scare away evil spirits and bad luck, as well as entertain [source: Jacobs].
- Games. To pass the time while waiting for the New Year, many families play mahjong or other card and board games on the night of New Year's Eve.
- Television. Millions of families in China now celebrate New Year's Eve by sitting around the television. They watch an elaborate variety show known as the "Spring Festival Gala," which has been broadcast on Chinese Central Television since the 1980s and has become a tradition in its own right [source: Hays].
Like most holidays, Chinese New Year -- and its associated traditions -- has evolved over the years and continues to change. It has become a grab bag of customs old and new, but for hundreds of millions of people around the world, it is still the grandest holiday of the year.
Read on for lots more information about Chinese customs and traditions.