New Year Festival

New Year Festival
(guonian, chunjie)
The ‘Spring Festival’ (chunjie), as the ‘Chinese New Year’ is properly known, includes throughout China two separate focal points, namely guonian (crossing into the new year) and yuanxiao jie (the festival of the primal evening) on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, corresponding to the day of the ‘upper (heavenly) prime’ (Shangyuan): that is, the birthday of the Officer of Heaven (Tianguan). The first focal point is essentially domestic in character, a parenthesis in time bounded by the departure to and return from heaven of the stove god (zaojun; the return usually occurs by the fifth day of the new year). On New Year’s Eve (chuxi), usually after year-end visits to the local ‘altar of the god of the earth’ (shetan) and village temples, the family gathers for its ‘meal of cohesion’ (tuanyuan fan), and the auspicious ‘parallel phrases’ (duilian) on the door-posts are replaced. On New Year’s Day (nian chuyi), ‘well-wishing’ (bainian) begins with worship of the gods, first the god of the earth, then the gods housed in temples. Only after the gods have been honoured can the visits to family and friends begin.
The ‘domestic New Year’ is also the time when those families that have portraits of their ancestors hang them up above the domestic altar and when lineages worship together in the ancestral hall (citang) (see ancestral halls/lineage temples).
Often, there will be a special ritual called shangpu, or ‘entering(the names of the sons born in the previous year) in the “lineage register”’ (zupu). This latter act, which is public and surrounded by ritual precautions, is followed by an all-male banquet during which ‘lanterns are hung up (in the ancestral hall)’ (shangdeng).
The ‘public New Year’ consists in dragon and lion dances, as well as in lantern processions and competitions; it is also one of the main moments for the celebration of the Daoist community sacrifice (Jiao). Dances and processions, usually organized by lineage or lineage segment (fang), are an occasion for the expression of rivalry between the component parts of local society, and they often occur in the context of the Jiao. We need to realize that the words for ‘lantern’ and ‘boy’ are homophonous (ding) in Hakka and other dialects to understand that the first phase of the New Year’s celebrations in fact prepares the second, and that both phases reach their culminating point in the Lantern Festival. If, then, the Spring Festival is a predominantly lineage festival, it is very important to see that lineage fecundity and strength are thought of as blessings of the gods, from the local earth god all the way up to the Officer of Heaven. That is why the first half of the first month is also so frequently the time for Jiao, and it is also the reason the segments of the long dragon are assembled in front of the local temple.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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