In northern China, the first meal of the New Year is boiled jiaozi (stuffed dumplings). In the south, it is niangao (New Year's cake). In the Chinese language, niangao is a homonym of the phrase "higher every year," signifying the wish for steadily increasing prosperity.
New Year's cake is made with glutinous rice and short grain rice, plus sweet osmanthus sugar, lard, nuts, and candied fruit added according to taste. New Year's cake can be steamed, boiled, deep-fried, or stir-fried. Its sweet taste and chewy texture make it a favorite holiday treat.
After the first New Year's Day meal is eaten, offerings are made to the ancestors in the family ancestral hall. After consulting the almanac to determine the luckiest route, the family sets out on a procession, bearing lanterns and offerings to the auspicious deities, burning incense, and setting off firecrackers. When they reach the temple, they burn more incense, pay respect to the deities, and entreat them for good fortune in the coming year.
Another activity for the Spring Festival is the making New Year's calls to friends and family. If New Year's offerings to the ancestors represent remembrance of the deceased, New Year's calls represent appreciation of the living. Making the rounds to offer New Year's greetings expresses affection and strengthens the bonds of friendship and family. In the past, if the head of a household had too many friends and relations to pay them each a personal visit, a servant was delegated to deliver name cards or lucky characters. This custom was widespread among the upper classes. The people receiving callers often gave their elder visitors red envelopes containing lucky New Year's money.
Today, there are a number of new ways of conveying New Year's greetings. In addition to paying New Year's calls, people send New Year's cards, make phone calls, send electronic greeting cards, or use cell phones to send short text messages.
Giving Red envelopes or Hongbao during the Spring Festival is a time-honored tradition in China.Red envelopes always contain money, varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. The amount of money in the red envelopes should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals (帛金 : Bai Jin). The number 8 is considered lucky (for its homophone for "wealth"), and $8 is commonly found in the red envelopes in the US. The number six (六, liù) is also very lucky as it sounds like 'smooth' (流, liú), in the sense of having a smooth year. Sometimes chocolate coins are also found in the packets.
It’s usually handed out to younger kids by their parents, grandparents or relatives on the New Year’s Eve after they give their new year’s greetings to the familiy members.