The Spring Festival may be the longest “Golden Holiday” in China but somehow exorbitant ticket prices and extreme crowding outweighs the extra leave days. So you have decided on a Chinese New Year staycation. If you have been working at breakneck pace all year, hibernating under the covers with all forms of communication turned off could sound more inviting than navigating the Spring Festival rush, but if you want to embrace all that Chinese New Year has to offer here is a guide to celebrating Spring Festival at home in China. With a little planning, you can ensure the lunar year of the horse gets off to a galloping start.
Primp for Prosperity
The Spring Festival is probably the most important festival among the ethnic Han majority. Weeks, or even months, are spent preparing for the occasion. Get into the mood by spring-cleaning, delving deeply, and weeding out the old or unnecessary to usher in (or make space for) the new. Who knows, payoffs may come after selling stuff to “recyclers”.
Don’t forget your fridge – throw out those mould-encrusted bits and give it a good wipe-down. If this sounds like too much work, remember dining options over festival days are non-existent in some places, or at best, limited. Every inch of storage space for hoarding goodies cannot be underestimated.
The next step is optional when preparing to celebrate Chinese New Year at home. Chinese traditionally adorn their nests with all things red for luck. Intricate Chinese knottings or delicate papercuts attract good luck. This is the time to finally put those glaring red sofa throws, bought on a whim, to good use, or you could invest in something a bit fancier, especially if you’re going to be in China for more than one Spring Festival. In traditional China, peasants could only afford to buy new clothes once a year so this is a period with the perfect excuse to buy yourself some new threads. And besides, you’ve already free up closet space. Also consider getting that much-needed haircut early, before salons impose annual Spring Festival surcharges.
The Night Before
Now that your house is clean and bright and the larder stockpiled to the brim, you are fully prepared for Chinese New Year. This festival is really about the family so sometimes braving arduous journeys with only a standing ticket are common occurrences. If you’ve got friends who are closer than family in this foreign land, inviting them over would be a touching move. Ethnic minorities and other foreigners would usually be grateful that someone took the initiative. Or bump up those networking skills and good local friends might open their house to an extra guest.
After the reunion, it is important to stay up as long as possible. Traditional Chinese belief has it that the longer you stay up on ‘New Year’s’ eve, the longer your parents will live. If you’ve got the right company, this should be no problem. Have a house party with the dress code being gaudy quilted pajama sets chat the night away. Whatever you do, you should probably have the Chinese New Year gala playing on the TV in the background.
If guests are still around, planning indoor activities would be a good idea unless you’ve all decided to watch another day of the CCTV gala. Take turns at hosting will be in line with true Spring Festival spirit. Since time is not an issue for the next few days, indulge in time-consuming activities that you’ve been putting of all year. To amp up your good luck for the year, bear the customs in mind: don’t sweep the floor so as not to sweep away the good luck and also try to only say nice things, criticisms are decidedly inauspicious
Chinese festivals are all about food, so compile a list of complex dishes you’ve been craving to try your hand at making. Like intricately hand-decorated cakes or making sauces from scratch. And of course put your hand to some Chinese New Year staples like jiaozi, wontons or radish cakes.
Since you are already doing everything the Chinese way, total immersion by conversing in Chinese is the way to go. Perfect your “gongxi facai”s and other festive greetings, hold Chinese New Year trivia competitions (in Chinese of course) or engage in a little light gambling with mahjong, Chinese chess or card games. And if that is too old-school, you could just sit around staring into smartphones like today’s Chinese youth and wechat eachother from across the room.
Having a well-stocked fridge doesn’t mean you have to stay housebound. If you are still in pajama-party mode, don’t bother to get changed – take a walk in your pajamas, just for laughs. With the neighborhood hustle-and-bustle missing, explore the immediate vicinity thoroughly and be surprised at the things you’ve never noticed before. Sure, shops may be closed, but that’s the point! Keep an eye out for minority dining establishments like lamian restaurants if you’ve ventured too far to get back for meals.
Further out, temple fairs and lantern festivals are popular events in cities across China. Originally for the veneration of local deities, soak in the atmosphere with lion or dragon dance performances and browse street stalls hawking knick-knacks and snacks.
In places less culturally-vibrant, local tourist attractions like gardens, and mountains would be mercifully free from crowds. BYO food and drinks in case street vendors decide to stay home. Or venture further to visit a winter-appropriate attraction such as a local hot spring or ski resort.
And of course, one can’t talk about Chinese New Year without talking about it’s ever present soundtrack: fireworks and noise-crackers. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! This is your chance to set of fireworks any time of night and day (though some cities have started to impose bans on fireworks in city centre!) so it might be best to stick with noise crackers.
True, the Chinese New Year is all about good luck. But if you commit a faux pas, don’t get too stressed up over it. Also, if you are the kind who’s got a lot of activities that you’ve been putting off all year, remember to pace yourself this holiday as you don’t want to fall sick in a time when most hospitals operate on skeletal staffing.
The 10 Most Common Sites of Chinese New Year
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