SPRING Festival or the Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important holiday for Chinese people who believe that a good beginning is half done.
This year the Chinese New Year's Eve (Chu Xi) will fall on February 9. According to tradition, the Spring Festival officially ends on the 15th day of the first lunar month (this year February 24), which usually called the Lantern Festival.
According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Snake represents wealth, flexibility and wisdom.
On the Chinese New Year's Eve, all family members gather in reunion at a round (symbol of unity) table filled with traditional dishes, including jiao zi 饺子 (steamed dumplings with pork or vegetable fillings) and nian gao 年糕 (sticky glutinous rice pudding).
At midnight, people set off firecrackers to welcome the new year and scare off evil spirits.
On the first day of the Lunar New Year, younger generations put on their new clothes and pay visits to elders of the family. Children get lucky money in red envelopes (hong bao oì°ü) from their parents and relatives.
As the number of expats in China rises, more foreigners have an opportunity to celebrate the festival with locals and learn about Chinese culture.
Cameron Andersen, or better known as An Long, a popular Australian TV host from International Channel Shanghai, says he has enjoyed Spring Festival in China for three years already. This year he will celebrate it with his wife's family in Cixi of Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province.
"We will be following all sorts of traditions, and my favorites are the amazing dinners and midnight fireworks," he says.
Compared with New Year's parties in Australia, the celebrations in China involve many more family members, Anderson observes.
"In Australia, the celebration is a small gathering of immediate family members at one table, but in China, a family celebration is an epic event with enough relatives to fill a movie theater. The atmosphere is so fun and energetic, and the food is amazing," he adds.
Anderson recommends that foreigner try to have a traditional Spring Festival dinner with a Chinese family.
"If you have a chance, tag along with a Chinese colleague or friend to their family celebration. You will be more than welcome, because during the Spring Festival, the more people the merrier!" he says.
American Jason Funk has been living in Shanghai for four years and runs a nail salon. This will be his third Spring Festival in China.
He is putting up lots of red decorations in his house and plans to take his employees (those who are not with their families) out to dinner and then find a place to party.
"I'll definitely be setting off fireworks and eating tons of tang yuan (rice dumpling)," Funk says, adding that he will watch the Channel Young show "Different Lifestyles" for laughs.
In his view, the most interesting and fun part of the Spring Festival is watching the many special TV shows, with singing, dancing and comedy.
He finds it's fascinating that people burn incense and fake money for ancestors and deceased family members to enjoy in the afterlife. "It's rather mysterious and you don't see anything like that in the United States," he says.
Funk recommends that foreigners eat tang yuan and jiao zi and visit the old Yuyuan Garden, which is brilliantly decorated and features spectacular "snake" lanterns for the Lantern Festival. "It's absolutely beautiful, full of culture and history."
Latvian Marta Ivaninoka is a TV host for China Central Television and a guest on "Different Lifestyles." She has lived in China for three years but this will be the first time she will celebrate the traditional festival in China.
She has always found the loud firecrackers rather scary.
Ivaninoka finds the custom of giving children hong bao or lucky money to be very interesting, as there's nothing similar in Latvia.
"We get presents, but never money for the New Years' celebration," she says. "Christmas in Latvia is when you have to be with your parents, grandparents and other relatives, but New Year is party time! People go out into the streets, do the 10-second countdown and drink champagne."
She says the Chinese tradition of celebrating with the family is nice because many people live apart from their parents.
She wants to make some jiao zi herself and celebrate with Chinese friends and neighbors.
"But If you don't have Chinese neighbors or Chinese friends, then just simply go out in the streets!" she says. "The Spring Festival atmosphere will be all around the city and you will get the Chinese New Year's spirit no matter where you go!"