chūn jié (春节) or Spring Festival, literally "spring season", is the BIGGEST biggest celebration in Chinese culture as it signifies the arrival of Spring or "chūn" (春) or chūn tiān 春天 or a New Year.
Winter in China especially in the northern parts e.g. Heilongjiang, Tianjin, Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai can bitter cold, dry and long. Thus, the arrival of spring (chūn jié (春节), literally "spring season") is greeted with much joy because the sun will shine again, the flowers will bloom and all is fresh again.
An all-time favourite Spring Festvial song is "春天来了!" (chūn tiān lài le)
This YouTube video captures the celebratory and festive mood of most Chinese during the Spring Festival:
The Chinese celebrate the New Year quite differently from the way we'd celebrate Christmas:
1. "guònián" (过年) - Chinese celebrate the Spring Festival with family by having a reunion dinner on Chinese New Year Eve. This literally means celebrate the coming of the new "year" (nián-年). In many families, the reunion dinner is more important than chūn tiān 春天 itself.
You will not want to be caught in a bus load of Chinese who are stuck in traffic on the eve of chūn tiān 春天 for they may be in tears...
2. "hóngbāo" (红包) - Married couples give red packets containing cash "hóngbāo" (红包) to children and unmarried people. Even if you are a 50 year old single girl or swinging bachelor, you'd still receive a "hóngbāo" (红包) during "chūn jié" (春节). You will be teased though for retaining your single status ;-)
Unlike the opening of Christmas presents in front of everyone on Christmas day, as a sign of respect, children are taught not to open their "hóngbāo" (红包) in front of the giver.
3. Spring Festival Gala - 春节联欢晚会 (chūnjiéliánhuānwǎnhuì)
An interesting broadcast on China's CCTV, which is a 4-hour variety show of
- cultural dance performances,
- solo singing,
- funny dialogues - duì huà (对话), which also act as social commentary,
- upcoming pop groups or talented youngsters
Shot live from Beijing, the gala is slowly losing its popularity since the younger generation find it boring e.g. my college students will watch bits of it just because their parents or grandparents are watching but they are fast to turn to their smart phones once the pace slows down :)
I've since encouraged them to watch it for its cultural value especially the performances that feature the minority cultures from other parts of China e.g. Guizhou, Mongolian, Uyghur, Xinjiang, Yunnan.
Here's the opening act of 2012's Spring Festival Gala: