Susan Bachmann writes...
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
My husband and I travelled to China in February this year and had a great time with my mother and my sister’s family, celebrating the Lunar or Chinese New Year, according to my mother’s wishes that we should always celebrate Chinese New Year together as a family.
In fact, in IWO, we also make it a point to enjoy a traditional dinner to celebrate this event annually. Although the Chinese use the Gregorian calendar as well in their daily lives, all traditional festivals are celebrated according to the lunar calendar. The Chinese New Year is the most important festival and it starts on the first day of the lunar calendar.
However, the celebration starts 6-7 days before the actual day and lasts for 15 days after that.
Beginning on the 23rd (Northern China) or 24th (Southern China) of the 12th lunar month, people nationwide start to clean their houses thoroughly. This symbolises bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming the new year. Other customs include offering sacrifices to the kitchen god, massive shopping for food and new clothes, decorating the house with red lanterns, red posters, red paper cuttings (which would later be stuck on the window panes) etc.
Chinese New Year is the biggest event of the year among family members and people try as much as possible to get together with their families on this auspicious festival. Because the economic development in China is uneven, with the coastal area being much more developed (hence more job opportunities) than the hinterland, this proves to be a time of great human migration as those working in the cities would return home to celebrate the occasion. The festival of 2019 mobilised nearly 3 billion passengers - before, during and after the festival - which makes this the largest human migration in the world! The different means of transportation: bus, train, and motorbikes!
During this period, it is very diﬃcult to get a ticket, especially the days leading up to the New Year. We were travelling on the eve of the new year. Normally the celebration starts on new year’s eve with a reunion dinner of all family members of all generations. So by the time we arrived home at 10:30pm, most Chinese families would have already eaten their reunion dinner at the family table. The train was really empty and we were travelling in great comfort. We were sitting in a business cabin on a train, travelling at a speed of up to 350km/h.
Reunion dinner dishes usually have lucky meanings and fish must be included (the pronunciation of the word fish sounds like abundance in Chinese). After dinner, family members will play mahjong with the TV on. Traditionally the Chinese Central TV station broadcasts the New Year Gala to the whole country. It starts at 8pm and finishes only at midnight. It features traditional folk and pop performances from China’s best singers, dancers and acrobats. The whole family will stay awake till after mid night (that is called shousui, meaning to keep watch over the year), and then oﬀer sacrifices to ancestors, light firecrackers and fireworks, oﬀer lucky money in red envelopes to kids …
The new year’s day is a relaxing day. There are lion dances in many places, such as city squares, parks and temples. A lot of people visit temples to burn incense sticks and make wishes. This day is a day where the killing of animals is not allowed. After the big meal from the night before, some light food is good for the body.
Traditionally, the second day is the day where married daughters visit her parents , bearing gifts and red envelopes. However, nowadays with only one child in each family, young couples are eating the new year eve dinner together with both families. After the second day, people start to visit relatives and friends.
In recent years, more and more people take advantage of long holidays and go travelling. During this period (usually 1-7th day of the lunar 1st month), all businesses are closed, except those in the service industry. Most businesses resume on the 8th day, so those who are travelling back to work have to join the travelling chaos again.
The 15th day of the new year is the Lantern festival, marking the end of the new year celebration. When night falls, people light their lanterns and let them float on the sea, river or lake. Sky lanterns are forbidden these days.
During these 15 days of celebration, there are lot of regional variations. In my
home town, the 11th day is a very big day. On that day there are street parties all over the county during the day and firecracker dragon dance at night. It is a very famous event in the region and the whole town would be packed with tourists and locals alike.
So, this is an important festival to me and we will try to make it home every Chinese New Year.