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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class- Holidays in China Series at ChineseClass101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Chinese holidays and observances. I’m Eric, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 23. Chinese New Year's Eve. In Chinese, it’s called 除夕(chúxī).
Chinese New Year’s Eve falls on the last day in the lunar calendar and is one of the most important Chinese traditional festivals. After Chinese New Year’s Eve comes the Spring Festival, which marks the coming of the Chinese New Year.
Now, before we get into more detail, do you know the answer to this question-
Why is fish a necessary component of the reunion dinner that takes place on New Year’s Eve?
If you don't already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
Literally, 除夕(chúxī) means saying goodbye to the past and welcoming the future. On this holiday, people usually stay up the entire night, cleaning the house and decorating it with the door god, or 门神 (Mén Shén), spring couplets, and new year pictures. It is also custom for people to wear colorful festive clothing to celebrate the arrival of the Spring Festival.
There are many legends regarding the origin of this holiday, the most famous of which is about a monster named 夕(xī). Because xi harmed people, everyone hoped to get rid of it. In reference to this, 除夕(chúxī) literally means “getting rid of Xi.” Over time, people stopped seeing Xi, and it was believed that firecrackers and red cloth hanging in doorways were what kept the monster from coming back. Xi was never seen again, but the legends and superstitions surrounding this monster spawned the customs of the Spring Festival.
In northern China, it is custom to make dumplings on New Year’s Eve, while in southern China the customs on this holiday are more varied. Some examples of southern New Year’s Eve customs are making year cakes or rice dumplings, boiling glutinous rice balls, and eating rice. In the south, these dumplings are shaped like ingots, and the year cakes are thought to be full of wishes for a prosperous new year.
There are some suspicions connected to Lunar New Year's Eve. Some of these suspicions and related customs are: don’t speak loudly, because it will wake up evil spirits; don’t look into the mirror because you might catch a glimpse of evil spirits; don’t break anything because it will bring you a year of bad luck, and if you do accidentally break something, wrap the fragments in red paper; say “peace all year round” or 岁岁平安(suì suì píng ān) aloud; and put a bouquet on an altar for several days to eradicate impending ill fortune.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question-
Why is fish a necessary component of the reunion dinner that takes place on New Year’s Eve?
On New Year’s Eve, families hold a reunion dinner or 团圆饭 (tuányuánfàn) to celebrate the new year. Because the word “fish” or 鱼 (yú) has the same pronunciation as the word 余 (yú), which symbolizes richness, wealth and fortune in the next year, fish is an indispensable part of the New Year’s Eve meal.
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Are there any foods that hold symbolism in your country? Please leave a comment telling us at ChineseClass101.com, and I'll see you in our next lesson. Bye!