Happy new year (again)! In China, the solar new year (January 1st) seems significantly less important than the lunar new year, known in Chinese as Spring Festival (春节 - Chūnjié). Spring Festival begins two new moons after the winter solstice (and sometimes three), so the date is different every year. This year, it’s on January 31st. 2014 is the year of the horse.
For those of you who haven’t had a chance to experience Chinese New Year, I wanted to share some of my observations.
In China, Spring Festival is undoubtedly the most important holiday of the year, and is a time for families to come together. During the festivities, most people in China return to their hometown, causing a phenomenon called Chūnyùn (春运). Chūn means Spring and Yùn literally means to transport, so Chūnyùn is a word that describes the travel season during the lunar new year. As a foreigner, travel in China always seems hectic to me. But if you ever try to travel in China during Spring Festival, you will come to understand the true meaning of chaos.
In Beijing, all this travel means a relatively empty capital, as most Beijing residents are not Beijing natives. But an empty capital does not necessarily mean a quiet capital. For those of us who stick around, fireworks vendors spring up on every corner, as the entire country embraces their inner pyromaniac. The most explosive day is Chūshiwǔ (初十五 – the 15th day of the Chinese New Year), after which the ban on fireworks is reinstated. Having fireworks during any other time of the year is illegal in central Beijing, so everything must go boom on this eventful day.
My favorite part about Spring Festival is the food. And the king of Spring Festival food is the dumpling. If you’re lucky enough to spend the New Year with Chinese friends and family, you’ll spend a good amount of time hand making the dumplings. For me, this usually means a couple hours of frustration and humiliation as my Chinese friends make fun of my ability (or lack there of) to make dumplings. I greatly prefer eating the dumplings to making them.
For those of you who do celebrate the lunar new year, what are your favorite parts? Share your experiences in the comments section!