Today is Chinese New Year and the start of their Spring Festival which will last 15 days. The first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. It is a traditional practice to light fireworks, burn bamboo sticks and firecrackers and to make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil spirits as encapsulated by nian (年) of which the term guo-nian (过年) was derived. Many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year's Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the days before. On this day, it is considered bad luck to use the broom (how’s that for an excuse not to sweep the kitchen?).
Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time to honor one's elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
For Buddhists, the first day is also the birthday of Maitreeya Bodhisattva (better known as the more familiar Budai Luohan), the Buddha-to-be. People also abstain from killing animals.
Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Chinese New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises (this is one of my favorite parts to watch). Members of the family who are married also give red packets containing cash known as lai see or angpow, a form of blessings and to suppress the aging and challenges associated with the coming year, to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. Business managers also give bonuses through red packets to employees for good luck, smooth-sailing, good health and wealth.
While fireworks and firecrackers are traditionally very popular, some regions have banned them due to concerns over fire hazards. For this reason, various city governments (e.g., Hong Kong, and Beijing, for a number of years) issued bans over fireworks and firecrackers in certain precincts of the city. As a substitute, large-scale fireworks displays have been launched by governments in such cities as Hong Kong and Singapore.
Live Long and Prosper...
Xin Nian Kuai Le!