Feasting, Fanfare and Fireworks: Chinese New Year
For thousands of years, Chinese people have celebrated the Lunar New Year as a way to pay respect to their ancestors, honor deities and welcome the arrival of a new year. With festivities stretching out over 15 days, it’s the longest and most important holiday in China, and millions of Chinese from all over the world make the journey home each year to reconnect with their families.
In fact, the travel period before, during and after Chinese New Year has often been called the world’s largest annual migration, with over 2 billion passenger journeys made every year.
In 2018, mark your calendars for February 16th, when China will usher in the Year of the Dog.
Historically, the Lunar New Year marked a rare period of rest for farmers. During this time, work would not be done in the fields until the first rains of the new year, which according to ancient lunar calendar systems typically started about 15 days after New Year’s Day. This seasonal break became the ideal time to visit loved ones, congratulate each other for surviving the harsh winter and ring in the new year with plenty of feasts and festivities. Records indicate that New Year’s celebrations like this may have occurred in China at least as early as the 14th century BCE.
During Chinese New Year, households, businesses and city streets are fully decked out in vibrant crimson colors, from red lanterns to Chinese knots and calligraphy with traditional idioms for good fortune. One particularly common decoration is a diamond-shaped sign of the word fu, which in Chinese means “blessings” or “happiness.”
Communal hot pot dishes are typically featured to symbolize coming together as a family, along with dumplings made into round shapes resembling money. A whole fish is often served for the main course, since the Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word for “surplus.”
Some will eat the fish, leaving a little left over to “ensure there will be enough money in the coming year,” while others only cook it for display to eat the following day. Regardless, it’s important that the fish be cooked and served whole, since cutting through the bones is thought to bring bad luck. The bounteous feast is rounded off with fresh and dried fruits, sweet dumplings and sticky rice cakes to symbolize sweetness in the coming year.
Today, these envelopes are passed from older generations to young folk, from bosses to employees, and from married couples to singles. The money inside may vary, but any amount with an odd number or the number four in it is considered taboo – odd numbers are often associated with cash given during funerals, and the Chinese word for “four” sounds similar to the word for “death.”
Once the clock strikes midnight, families will rush out into the streets to set off scores of firecrackers. The celebration continues into New Year’s Day, when large-scale parades and fireworks shows are held, often featuring traditional Chinese Lion Dance performances to chase away any evil spirits lurking about.
As much as the holiday is about looking forward, it’s equally important for the Chinese to remind themselves of where they’ve been and pay their respects to those who helped them achieve success. Family altars and religious icons will be thoroughly cleaned before New Year’s Eve, and bowls of sweets, incense and paper money laid out as offerings to ancestors and deities on New Year’s Day in gratitude for the good fortune of the past year.
As they say in China, Xinnian Kuaile – Happy New Year!
Travel to China with MIR
MIR has more than two decades of experience planning personalized tours to China. Our knowledgeable Private Journeys Specialists are at the ready to handcraft a custom private journey centered around the Chinese New Year, catering to your preferred dates of travel and interests.
Or you can discover more of China’s fascinating traditions, culture and history on some of MIR’s tours that include travel to China:
Small Group Tours
- China’s Silk Road & Tibet: Route of Monks & Merchants
- Chinese Turkestan & Central Asia
- The Pamir Highway & Across Fabled Frontiers
Rail Journeys by Private Train
Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to China by phone (1-111-111-1111) or email today.
Top photo: Dragon statues (symbolizing boldness, heroism and perseverance) stand out against the Shanghai skyline. Photo credit: Peter Guttman
PUBLISHED: February 4, 2016