Lunar New Year's Eve, the last day of the old year, is one of China's most important traditional holidays. Homes are spotless in and out, doors and windows are decorated with brand new Spring Festival couplets, New Year's pictures, hangings, and images of the Door God, and everyone dresses up in new holiday clothes that are decorated with lucky patterns and auspicious colors.
To the Chinese, New Year's Eve dinner is more than just enjoying a grand feast. On this day, all Chinese all over the world, no matter how far away from home they are or how busy at work, will be home for dinner.
The elaborate dinner is laden with auspicious food. The names of the dishes express the wish for good luck in the coming year. Most dishes are prepared with uncut or whole ingredients to ensure integrity and perfection. The use of knives is considered unlucky as this could sever the family's good fortune.
The sumptuous New Year dinners are prepared with the most delicate culinary skill and good wishes to welcome relatives and friends with a choice of festive treats. Today, a growing number of Chinese choose to have reunion dinners at restaurants or invite cooks home to make dinners for them.
On the Chinese New Year, while pairs of the Door God are pasted in the center of the door, spring couplets are pasted on each side of the door and propitious words across the lintel at the top, expressing wishes for happiness and beatitude.
It is said that spring couplets originated from "peach wood charms", or door gods painted on wood charms in earlier times. During the Five Dynasties (907-960), the Emperor Meng Chang inscribed an inspired couplet on a peach slat, beginning a custom which gradually evolved into today's popular custom of pasting-up spring couplets.
In addition to pasting couplets on both sides and above the main door, it is also common to hang calligraphic writing of the Chinese characters for "spring", "wealth" and blessing. Some people will even invert the drawings of "Fu" since the Chinese for "inverted" is a homonym in Chinese for "arrive", thus signifying that spring, wealth or blessing has arrived.
Shou Sui occurs when members of the family gather around throughout the night after the reunion dinner and reminisce about the year that has passed while welcoming the year that has arrived. Some believe that children who Shou Sui will increase the longevity of the parents.
一夜连双岁，五更分二年 means that the night of New Year's Eve (which is also the morning of the first day of the New Year) is a night that links two years. 五更 (Wu Geng – the double hour from 0300 to 0500) is the time that separates the two years apart.
No Spring Festival would be complete without the sound of firecrackers. Firecrackers and fireworks are traditionally set off on New Year's Eve and on Dragon Boat Festival, the fifth day of the New Year. In addition, it is also customary in many regions to set off fireworks early in the morning of New Year's Day, when the front door is first opened. This tradition, known as "front door firecrackers," is meant to welcome the first day of the new year.
Firecrackers have a very long history in China. The first firecrackers consisted of segments of bamboo that were set on fire, causing them to explode with a loud noise. They were used to scare away ghosts and banish evil. Firecrackers have traditionally been associated with the supernatural. In addition to frightening ghosts, they were also used to see out the old year and welcome in the new. Eventually, they came to symbolize a prayer for peace. There are many different kinds of firecrackers and fireworks, including noisemakers, sparklers, and colorful pyrotechnics. Today, fireworks are used primarily to heighten the festive holiday spirit. However, because of the injuries and environmental pollution caused by fireworks, a number of cities have banned or limited their use, replacing them with other holiday activities.