Chinese New Year, more commonly referred to within China as “Spring Festival”, is by far the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar.
Spring Festival is a time when this modern nation returns to its traditional, superstitious past as the world’s largest human migration takes place and hundreds of millions of people return to their family homes. Experiencing this holiday offers a valuable glimpse into China’s long history. Naturally, it is also celebrated in countries with a shared heritage or a substantial Chinese population.
Even until very recently, Chinese New Year was of such importance that the government allowed a public holiday of around one month, and very few businesses opened during this time. Nowadays, however, as China becomes more entwined with the Western world, the holiday has been relegated in official importance, and most people are given a holiday of around one week. Although it would have seemed unthinkable even a decade ago, you can now go to the supermarket or any large business throughout the holidays as some staff are made to work at this time.
However, despite modernisation, Chinese New Year is largely a time for people to return to their family traditions. Regional variations naturally exist across this vast country but there are certain universal customs that mark the celebration of New Year. Perhaps the most important is simply to be with family. People travel incredible distances to return to their family and on the day before New Year they will gather together for a large and elaborate dinner. The food that is consumed will, of course, vary greatly from province to province but the importance of being with family does not.
One of the other important activities is cleaning, which is tied to the Chinese belief in luck. People will clean the family house before New Year in order to sweep away bad luck and for the first two days of the next year they will refrain from cleaning so as to avoid sweeping out any good luck that has been brought in. In line with these superstitions are decorative ornaments and posters placed around the house and on the front door to keep bad spirits away and the use of fireworks, which the Chinese believe scare away ghosts. Fireworks are important to the Chinese throughout the year (especially considering they invented fireworks!) but on their most important of holidays be prepared for some seriously impressive displays!
In recent years Chinese New Year, like Western holidays, has become a little more modern and commercial and children will tell you that the most important part is when they receive a red envelope full of “lucky money” or when they sit and watch the variety shows that dominate CCTV’s broadcasts over the holiday period. Yet despite modernisation, New Year is a time when China returns to its past. It is a great time to visit as you almost travel through time, back to a very different part of Chinese history.
If you’re considering teaching in China, check out our article on “Experiencing Chinese New Year” which gives a teacher’s perspective on spending time with Chinese friends and colleagues during their national holiday – http://www.teachersforasia.com/experiencing-chinese-new-year/. For details of our current job openings across China, visit our jobs page – http://www.teachersforasia.com/jobs/ or simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.