Customs of Chinese Spring Festival – Cultural Elements of Tradition

The spring festival is the most important traditional holiday in China. People believes eating traditional food at this time will bring luck for their families and themselves.

Laba congee

“Laba festival”. On this day, folks have the custom of drinking Laba congee, which has over thousand years of history in China. La, in the ancient time is the name of a sacrifice ceremony. In Xia Dynasty, it is called “Qingsi”, during Yinshang, it is called “Jiaping”. It changed to “La” in Zhou Dynasty.

“La” evolves from “Lie”, therefore “la” and “lie” are connected. Because at the end of the year, all the crops have been harvested. Farmers have time to go outside hunting wild animals, which are used to sacrifice for the ancestors, gods, and prey for the life and avoid the disaster. Therefore, it is called “La sacrifice”. During the Nanbei dynasty, December 8th of the lunar year has been officially named as “Laba festival”. On this day, people have to worship their ancestor and gods. It is told that the founder of Buddhism Sakyamuni experienced englithenment on that day. Therefore, Laba is also the Bodhi Day.

Rice cake

Eating rice cake during the spring festival has the meaning of everything will go smoothly and get better and better. The types of rice cakes are: white rice cake in North, yellow rice cake in Jiangnan, sticky rice cake in southeast, red rice cake in Taiwan. In Yang Xiong’s book “Dialect” from the Han Dynasty, it has the name of “rice cake”, which is popular during the Weijin and Nanbei dynasty.

In the book of “Essential techniques for the welfare of the people” from Jia Sixie has recorded the method of making rice cake. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, rice cake has become a regular snack on the market and have different flavor in north and south. In north, it is steamed and fried. In south, besides steam and fry, there is also sliced fry and boiling.


In north, for the dinner on the New Year’s Eve, there is the tradition to eat dumplings. However, different places have different customs. Some places eat dumplings in the New Year’s Eve, some place eat the dumpling the next day. Some rural places in North has the custom of eating dumplings in the morning from the first day to the fifth day. Eating dumplings is a unique way for people to express their wishes to say goodbye to the past and welcome the new. According to the ancient timekeeping method, 11 pm in the evening to 1 am next day is called the “Zi shi”.

“Intersect of Zi” means the intersect of the previous year and the new year. Dumpling represents the “intersect of Zi”. Eating dumplings during the spring festivals is regarded as good luck. Additionally, the shape of dumplings looks like the old money used in the ancient time. Making dumplings mean that the luck is wrapped. Eating dumplings represents the rich life. Different than the north China, in south, there are usually hot pot and fish. The boiled hot fish, warm and steam. The “fish” sounds like “leftover”, represents “there is still celebration left”. It also implies the happy life will continue. Some places in south also eat rice cake, meaning that the harvest will be higher and higher each year.


In south, it is called “Tangyuan”. In Jiangsu, Shanghai and other places, there is custom to eat Tangyuan in the morning of the first day in New Year.

Lantern festival is known as “Shang Yuan Festival” in Taoist tradition.

During Ming dynasty, the Yuanxiao was already common in Beijing. Because the Yuan is same with Yuan Shikai, therefore, people was forbit to call Yuanxiao.

Beside using the jiangmi flour, there is also sorghum flour, yellow flour. The stuffing are sweet olive sugar, Chinese hawthorn, red bean paste and others. Some are big as walnut, some are smaller as yellow bean. There is also the solid yuanxiao and thin skin “green skin tang yuan”.

Spring roll

Eating spring roll in spring is the custom in China. Spring rolls exists since Jin dynasty, which was placing pancake and vegetables together on the plate. In Tang and Song dynasties, the custom of eating spring roll has become popular. And the king has reward close servants with spring rolls. The presentation was very delicate.

In the folk’s history, it was used as gift to send to each other. Eating spring rolls has also affected the other nations close.

By now, the ways to make spring rolls are different in various locations. The time of eating it varies too. Some are baked, some are steamed. Some are bigger like fan, some are small.

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