Spring Festival (a.k.a. Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year) is a traditional holiday in may countries, including mainland China, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Maylasia, Taiwan, and in Chinatowns the world over. It's the longest and most important holiday in the lunisolar calendar. For an in-depth real world explanation, you should probably look somewhere else. As the culture aboard the station is a mixture of various Asian and English-speaking cultures, this is one of the more important festivals characters will encounter.
In the game, the event began on Feb. 9, 2011, and is ongoing. The new year, Fire Tiger, began on Feb. 10, 2011.
According to legends passed down since Eden, the New Year starts with a fight against the Nian, which was said to devour everything in it's path. Food was set out by people in the hopes that when the monster was done eating, it would leave and not harm anyone. One year, the Nian spotted a child wearing red, and was frigtened into running away. People saw this, and in a stroke of brilliance, started hanging red lanterns and cloth in front of doors and windows. Firecrackers were also believed to be effective. When the Nian saw this, it became so frigtened that it never troubled the people again.
This has of course been altered slightly by the passage of time, as myths will do. Of course, nobody these days believes in the Nian, because that's just a myth.
So far as people know, anyway.
Ingame, festivities traditionally began for the original residents several days prior to Lunar New Year's Eve with a thorough cleaning of one's home. This is done to sweep away bad luck and in the hopes that fortune will favour one in the coming year. Additionally, brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day of the new year, so that the good luck that people put so much effort into bringing in would not be swept back out. In shops, incense, fireworks, firecrackers and red envelopes go on sale, and are displayed in shop windows.Starting on New Year's Eve, food stores and restaurants will feature jiaozi (dumplings), as well as fish dishes, niangao (new year's cake), and other traditional foods meant to be eaten on New Year's Eve and Day. Often, the fish was not finished entirely, as the saying "May there be surplusses every year" is a homophone with the phrase "May there be fish every year." This was, of course, by no means a universal practice. Red lanters are set outside of residents doors, and many would also hang auspicious sayings and poetry as well. A countdown was often held to midnight, when the beginning of the new year was heralded by the appearance of decorations and the flight of holographic dragons through the streets of the Residential Zones.
After midnight on Lunar New Year's Eve, Holographic decorations go uparound the Residential Zones, in preparation for the coming festival, which lasts for fifteen days. There are periodic Lion Dances which occur in parks throughout the Residential Zones on New Year's Day, and characters may also choose to purchase a holographic troupe to perform a house blessing at low cost. It was considered by some to be bad luck to light fires or use knives on this day, so pre-made food is available for purchase. Some Buddhist residents would abstain from meat on the first day of the festival, so as to ensure a long life. Many natives also would abstain from killing animals in general. There is also a yearly public feast which is available for all residents, free of charge. This is a long-standing tradition on the station. A large holographic fireworks display is scheduled yearly in Katayama, over Little Big Akihabara, and weather is adjusted accordingly. This is traditionally the day for individuals to visit the most senior members of their extended families. Red envelopes are also exchanged on this day.
The second day of the festival was for married daughters to visit their birth parents. It is also a day of prayer and blessing, as well as the "birthday of all dogs." Food is left out for dogs on the station, and residents are encouraged to be extra kind to them on this day. Many residents would pray and leave offerings to both their ancestors and to all of the gods.
The third day is a day to stay home and rest. Generally agreed to be a bad day to socialise or visit loved ones. Put your feet up and light a sparkler!
Most businesses are open by the fourth day, accompanied by the lighting of firecrackers before the start of business.
The fifth day is acknowledged as the birthday of the God of Wealth. More fireworks are set off on this day. Characters may set some off privately to gain his favour, and good fortunes for their families.
By the sixth festival day, all businesses are required to resume operation. Firecrackers are set off before the beginning of the business day for those who did not go back on the fourth or fifth.
The seventh day is the birthday of the common man. Before individual birthdays were recorded, this was the date on which everyone became one year older. Useful, if your character doesn't know their birthday. Characters may eat some yusheng in one of the free cafeterias with their friends and make wishes for prosperity in the coming year. Also, for Buddhists, this is a day to avoid eating meat.
The eighth festival day is the eve of the birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven. Family dinners are served in celebration.
The ninth day is the Jade Emperor's birthday. Offerings to him often include tea, incense, fruit, vegetarian food and roast pig.
The thirteenth day is for eating pure vegetarian food, to cleanse the system from overeating all the rich holiday food. This day is dedicated to the God of War, also known as the God of Success.
The fifteenth and final day is the Lantern Festival, where citizens would traditionally walk the streets at night en masse, carrying paper lanterns. Have some tangyuan and enjoy the last day of the festival. Candles are lit outside of homes to guide wayward spirits. It is also of note that many single women would write their user ID's on a mandarine orange, which would then be tossed into a river or lake. Men would then fish them out and eat them, keeping the number. A sweet orange was thought to prophesize a good romantic encounter with the woman, and a sour one was thought to bode ill.
Would be better explained by reading this. The public feast typically contains many, if not all, of the foods listed there, as well as quite a few that are not.