With the Chinese New Year holiday fast approaching, many of you may be gearing up for your first Spring Festival in China. Whether you're a newcomer or a seasoned celebrator, here's a quick rundown of what to expect during Chinese New Year, the nation's biggest holiday.
1. People, People, People
Image via 中国新闻网/China News Network
The annual 40 days of chunyun, or Spring Festival travel rush, is in full swing, with travelers moving across the country to reunite with family and friends. You might have already heard about it from your fellow Chinese friends who would describe this as "人从众" (People, people, people)!
As COVID-19 restrictions are no longer in place, more people are expected to travel this year compared to the previous ones.
2. Fireworks! Fireworks (Almost) Everywhere
Image 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).
However, if you reside in the Greater Bay Area, you are in for a special treat this year as the city of Guangzhou will host CNY fireworks for the first time in 12 years.
3. Chinese New Year Feasts (with plenty of baijiu)
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
Image via Sohu
With international travel restrictions lifted, domestic tourism is thriving during the holiday. 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.
5. Thinking About Ordering Stuff on Taobao? Not so Fast
Image 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
Image 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 dragon-themed decorations, which will be seen everywhere this year because 2024 is the Year of the Dragon!
7. Hongbao Galore and Discounts
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
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.
9. Spring Festival Gala
Image 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. 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, 2024.
[Cover image via unsplash]