Firework and red couplets. Dumplings in China's north and glutinous rice cakes in the south. Red wrappings with cash for children. No haircut until the start of the second lunar month.
These are some of the dos and don'ts for the Chinese Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, the most important Chinese holiday that falls on Feb. 3 this year.
While the older generation of Chinese have strictly kept to these customs for decades, the young are also increasingly observant of the dos and don'ts amid a revival of traditional culture.
All in all, people hope the new year will bring them good luck, which is exactly what all these rules imply.
WHY FIREWORK, LANTERNS AND COUPLETS?
Most people stay up late on the eve of the Chinese New Year, watching TV, enjoying snacks and chatting with their family. Even if they don't, they are woken up by the loud bangs of firework at midnight -- if the sporadic firework sessions before 12 a.m. are not loud enough to stir the sound sleepers.
As a legend goes, Chinese ancestors were haunted by a monster named "nian" (meaning year) that left its mountain dwelling for human communities amid food shortages in winter to prey on men and cattle.
In the long run, people found out the monster was afraid of flames, bangs and red color. So they worked out firecrackers and lanterns to scare it away.
No one in China still believes such a monster actually existed, but the legend and customs have survived.
Today, Chinese families still hang up red lanterns and put up red couplets with rhymed phrases at their door, light fireworks and stay up late to watch the old year out.
NEW YEAR'S FOOD
In northern China, dumpling is an indispensable dish on the New Year dinner table.
Experts say the snack was already popular in the Three Kingdoms period (220 - 280). Many Chinese believe that to eat dumplings at the turn of the year will bring good luck, because the food resembles "yuan bao", a boat-shaped gold ingot that served for many years in history as China's currency.
Vegetables, meat, fish and shrimps can all make dumpling fillings. But some families put something special -- from nuts and dates to coins -- in just one of the dumplings. He who happens to eat this special dumpling is considered the luckiest person in the new year.
In southern China, where people prefer rice to wheat, families eat glutinous rice cakes instead of dumplings for the new year. These cakes, whose Chinese name "nian gao" (higher year-on-year), are also symbols of a prosperous new year.
Leek, whose Chinese name sounds like "a permanent vegetable", and fish, which sounds like "surplus" or "abundance", are also among the most common dishes on the new year dinner table.