This Spring Festival, Jia Huiru plans to buy some posters with the Chinese character 'fu' (happiness) to paste up around her home to greet her relatives who are expected for a gathering. The festival comes with the Chinese New Year. It starts on February 12 this year, which is the Year of the Horse. Even though the 50-year-old Ms Jia has seen a lot of these festivals, she still has the spirit, or 'the habit of putting up New Year's decorations to make things more festive.' She said they remind her of happier times several decades ago. She was born into a worker's family in 1952, three years after the founding of the New China, after several years of war. It not an easy time, but she said she has good memories of her childhood. And Spring Festival was one of the happiest. That was just about the only time of the year she and her sisters and their little brother could expect any new clothes or candies. Those were fairly grim times for many Chinese. The Spring Festival lasts about 15 days, from the 1st to the 15th of the lunar month. Often, preparations can start a month earlier. The women of the house traditionally swept the rooms to make a clean start and bought fish, fruits, and enough vegetables and meat to make jiaozi (dumplings) or mantou (steamed bread) and enough dishes for a family feast. Dumplings are still the standard symbol of the festival and are absolutely essential. Fish, or 'yu' in Chinese, are also necessary. That is because the word for surplus also happens to be pronounced 'yu' and the Chinese believe that any surplus (from the previous year) means a better harvest and more fortune for the new year. On the final day of the outgoing year, both sides of the doorframe (or gateway, in the case of a traditional house with a courtyard) get decorated with auspicious sounding couplets and colourful bits of paper cut in various shapes. Windows and walls get the same treatment. Traditionally there were fireworks later in the evening as a prelude to the new year and to announce the reunion dinner. Most towns or villages came alive with the spluttering, pops, bangs, and cacophony of firecrackers. The acrid smell of gunpowder was everywhere. Children got decked out in new clothes and the celebration hit a fever pitch when the family members all sat down to the grand dinner. Things got a bit livelier when the time came for the children to bow or kowtow to their grandparents and to wish them a long life and a happy new year. For those acts of filial piety they were rewarded with long awaited red packets (with a bit of money). The family members took turns telling stories, whiling away the time cracking melon or sunflower seeds between their teeth and staying up until the clock struck 12:00 to usher in the New Year. This tradition was referred to as 'shouye' (watching the night). People were scrupulous in avoiding any sweeping on the first day of the new year, out of fear that any good fortune might be swept away. The children sometimes got luckier and received more packets of money if they accompanied their parents in making the New Year rounds to the homes of other relatives. Ms Jia, in harking back to those times, recalled, 'The money didn't amount to much, just 10 or 20 cents, but we were really happy.' Another exciting place for the children in those days was the temple fair, where there could be live folk performances, the smell of incense, and more prayers. The children also might be given various playthings. Although that style of life and those festive gatherings still exist in villages across China, for the burgeoning numbers of urbanites they are mostly just memories. And these days there is not much of anything, even the concerts or the fairs that used to draw the occasional colourful foreigner, that seems quite as exciting as it used to be, according to Ms Jia. 'Some of the atmosphere and colour of the Lunar New Year seem to have faded, especially now that cities have banned fireworks,' Ms Jia said. 'People don't see much difference between the Spring Festival and any other day, because our lives are 10 times more comfortable than they were several decades ago. Few families prepare the rich food that they did in the past and children don't treasure the gifts the way we did.' Fireworks can often be obtained in the countryside, but authorities have banned their use in the cities to put a stop to the ever present injuries, smoke problems, and fires. Although she is younger, Monique Zheng, an editor in her 30s, agrees with Ms Jia's assessment. 'Spring Festival is becoming less interesting as we grow up. The feasts don't taste the same, there are no fireworks in town, there's less snow, and fewer visits by relatives.' She has said she worries about traditions disappearing in modern times if fewer people follow them. Those fears are not unfounded, Ms Jia said, explaining that she felt a bit sad because her 17-year-old son, who grew up in the age of reforms, sees things in a completely different way. When she tries to tell her son about her childhood, he gets impatient and often interrupts, saying, 'You should look forward, not backward.' The teenagers are not the only ones whose lives are different from their parents' lives. Members of the trendier set in their 20s or 30s have also given new meaning to the festival, seeing it as a time for relaxation and travel, not a time to stay around home, SCMP.com discovered. Steel Sun, who is in his early 20s, peddles a popular car magazine. He said that many of his friends would be going abroad for a vacation. He said he plans to go home to see his mother, but not in the traditional way. He explained he would go sometime after the festival, to avoid the hordes of people travelling for the two-week period. The media reported that 1.74 billion Chinese were expected to travel during the festival because of the government mandated weeklong national holiday. A very large number of those people will be migrant workers heading back to towns or villages. Monique will be one of those. She is not a labourer, but works in Beijing and plans to spend the New Year holiday with her parents in Luoyang, in Henan province. 'It's the time of the year to leave troubles aside and enjoy a visit with your family,' she said, but gave a particularly Chinese reason for being so eager to get home. This is the Year of the Horse and that was the year she was born in and she especially wants to thank her parents, who are both in their 70s, for giving her life. There are 12 animals in the Chinese lunar calendar cycle. The horse is the seventh. Monique said she bought herself a red-paper horse lantern in hopes that it would bring her good luck. 'Believe it or not, the Chinese say the horse can help people have instant success,' she said with a wink.