The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-yearcycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year.
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors The Chinese New Year's Eve meal is the most important dinner of the year. Typically, families gather at a designated relative's house for dinner, but these days, many families often celebrate New Year's Eve dinner at a restaurant. Many restaurants require reservations months in advance. There are also some families that hire a professional chef to come cook at their house. Chefs are often busy running from one home to another cooking dinners for different families on New Year's Eve.
Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration and each day, many families rotate celebrations between homes of their relatives. The festivies are day-long and sometimes, a family ends up cooking two meals for their relatives, once at lunch and once at dinner. These dishes used to be all made from scratch, but now people can easily buy them prepackaged at the supermarkets.
Traditional New Year Foods:
- Eight Treasures Rice (contains glutinous rice, walnuts, different colored dry fruit, raisins, sweet red bean paste, jujube dates, and almonds).
- "Tang Yuan" - black sesame rice ball soup; or a Won Ton soup.
- Chicken, duck, fish and pork dishes.
- "Song Gao", literally translates to "loose cake"- which is made of rice which has been coursely ground and then formed into a small, sweet round cake.
- "Jiu Niang Tang" - sweet wine-rice soup which contains small glutinous rice balls
- a sweet soup made of cut-up fruit: Cut fruit is added into hot/warm water which has had a thickening agent (like cornstarch).