9 Things to Expect During Spring Festival in China

By That's, February 9, 2021

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Given the current state of international travel, we’d wager many of you are celebrating your first Spring Festival in China. If that’s the case, don’t fret. We have provided a quick run-down on what to expect during Chinese New Year so that you can prepare yourself for the biggest national holiday of the year. 

1. Testing, Testing, Testing

testing.jpgImage via China Daily

The annual 40 days of chunyun has already begun, but as you can imagine – there are fewer people on the move this year. The government has actively encouraged Chinese residents to stay in their respective cities following COVID-19 clusters in various Chinese cities in recent months. But if you are on the move over the holiday period, we’d strongly suggest getting a COVID-19 test beforehand. Depending on where you’re arriving from it may not be a requirement, but it’s certainly a safe bet.

2. Fireworks! Fireworks (Almost) Everywhere

new-years-eve-1125786_960_720.jpgImage via Pixabay

Legend has it that a Chinese chef accidentally dropped some saltpeter (an ingredient used in gunpowder and as a seasoning for cooking) into a fire used for cooking and then boom  the ‘firework’ was born. 

Since then, fireworks have been a long-standing tradition, used to explode into the new year. They were used in ancient China to ward off evil spirits, scared of the bright lights and loud noises the explosives create and have become an important custom in Chinese culture. These days, you can expect to hear fireworks going off every night of the holiday from approximately 10pm-6am, when the city turns into a faux-warzone. (Also: do not expect to sleep).

That is unless you live in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou or other major metropolises, where you’re now forbidden from setting off explosive pyrotechnics in central areas. 

So why the crackdown on fireworks? Every year, there are reports of numerous injuries and people spending time in the hospital during the holiday. Accidental fires, and sometimes even deaths, are also caused by poorly managed fireworks. Not only do they result in these horrible situations, but they also contribute to poorer levels of smog, and China doesn’t need any more of that. 

3. Chinese New Year Feasts (with plenty of baijiu)

china-spice-cny.jpg
Image via Four Points by Sheraton Guangzhou, Dongpu

Your annual office CNY banquet isn’t the only time you can expect to enjoy a festive meal during Spring Festival. Most families feast together on New Year’s Eve before watching the annual CCTV New Year’s Gala and then heading out to the streets to light fireworks at midnight (depending on where you are).

And of course, it wouldn’t be CNY without that bad-decision-fueling, hangover-inducing, slap-you-on-the-ass-and-call-you-daddy gasoline-liquor: baijiu. Expect to drink lots of it during the holiday, especially if you’re celebrating in rural China. Be careful though this stuff is poison.

4. Busy, Busy, Busy Tourist Attractions

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Image via Sohu

With international travel limited, expect a lot of domestic trips taken over the holiday – even with the government encouraging folks to stay home. Major sites like the Forbidden City and Great Wall in Beijing, the Bund in Shanghai, Huangshan in Anhui, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan, and pretty much anything in Hangzhou or Guilin (just to name a few) will be crowded during any given public holiday in China. You’ll likely have to book a ticket in advance depending on where you plan to visit. For those keeping it chill over CNY, perhaps stay at home and binge-watch some TV instead?

5. Thinking About Ordering Stuff on Taobao? Not so Fast

baby-cry.jpgImage via Pixabay

Basically, delivery guys tend to go back home for Spring Festival. That means there will be fewer people to deliver your packages to you. (Some, however, will be operating as usual over the break.)

Stores on Taobao also usually stop sending out items before the holiday even begins, so make sure you ask your seller about the exact dates. You might be able to convince them to send packages through Shun Feng Express or China Post, as these services usually stay open longer compared to other delivery companies. But be warned: This will cost you much more than your normal delivery fee.

6. Red Everything

chinese-lanterns-1394958_960_720.jpgImage via Pixabay

Expect to see lots of intense red colors during the holiday. Buildings, houses, stores and streets will be brightly decorated with lucky red ornaments, banners and more. 

Chinese couplets composed of positive wishes will adorn walls, red lanterns will light up the streets to shoo away bad luck and paper-cuttings will be used to represent happiness and luck. During this time of year, banks usually hang up festive photos to present images of prosperity. It’s also a tradition to put the word ‘fu’ (福) upside-down on doors of houses to ‘pour out’ good luck for the new year. 

You may also see kumquat trees, which are said to bring wealth, as well as blooming flowers to welcome in both the new year and spring season with warm wishes.   

And don’t forget ox-themed decorations, which will be seen everywhere this year because 2021 is the Year of the Ox! 

7. Hongbao Galore and Discounts

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Image via Weibo

Get your hongbao opening game on point! During Spring Festival, people love sending red packets to WeChat groups. Chinese people are extra-giving during this time of year, so you never know how much money you might end up earning over the holiday through hongbao (red envelopes). Read more about hongbao etiquette here.

You’ll also be seeing a lot of stores with their displays all glammed up to promote their CNY discounts, as well as restaurants, hotels and bars offering holiday specials. 

8. Temple Fairs

Chinese_New_Year_Lion_Dance.jpg
Image via Wikimedia

Many cities will hold special temple fairs, where you can watch traditional dragon and lion dances, as well as special performances, like an emperor’s wedding. You can also find traditional Chinese items and a variety of local snacks at these fairs.

Given the current state of affairs, we’re learning some fairs around China have been canceled this year. 

9. Spring Festival Gala

spring-gala.jpgImage via CGTN

Known as the most-watched television show in the world, China’s Spring Festival Gala consists of different types of performances from all around the Chinese mainland – singing, dancing, skits and much more. Expect to see a few big-name celebrities making appearances. This year’s festival will apply new uses of technology, with stage choreography presented in 8K Ultra HD video. Viewers can expect a number of virtual performances given the current pandemic. Click here for our guide to view this year’s gala.  


This article was originally published on January 26, 2017. It has been updated and republished on February 9, 2021.

[Cover image via Weibo]

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