I am only just beginning to learn about the many customs surrounding the preparations and celebrations of Chunjie, the Spring Festival which heralds the Chinese New Year.
One very important custom is to decorate the entrance doorway of your home with Chunlian – Spring Couplets. These are two lines of verse, antithetical couplets which must correspond with each other phonologically, syntactically and semantically, word for word and phrase for phrase. The couplets are written in Chinese calligraphy in black or gold on long vertical strips of red paper. The first verse, the ‘head’ is pasted on the right-hand side of the door and the ‘tail’ verse is pasted on the left. Most people also add a third verse which is pasted horizontally across the door lintel.
The verses should be happy, hopeful and uplifting messages about a better year to come, with the desire for peace, fortune, harmony and good luck.
This custom arose way back in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), and was originally a test of poetic and calligraphic skills.
Nowadays, of course, most people either go to one of the professional calligraphers who do brisk business at this time of year, and order what they want to be written for them; or else they buy them ready made – thousands are available in shops and the supermarkets.
The other thing you see pasted onto entrance doors at this time of year are colourful prints of ‘Door Gods’. These fierce looking chaps are there to protect the household and drive away evil spirits and bad luck. The story is that way back in the dim and distant past there was an Emperor who had difficulty sleeping at night – and he blamed his insomnia on evil spirits. Two of his Generals decided that they would stand outside his bedroom door all night and attack any of these night monsters who tried to get in to the Emperor. Well, what do you know? He had a decent night’s sleep, the Generals were depicted on paper and pasted on doors, and so the custom began.