Imagine combining traditions of Christmas and New Year’s bang, and possibly the celebrations of 4th of July in US. Imagine a constant bang, puff and pang for a period of fifteen days; imagine eerily deserted streets covered with inches and inches of gunpowder and red paper wraps (from the firecrackers), and you’ll get close to grasping the idea of Chinese New Year celebrations. Well, at least, this is how it looks to an outsider; for Chinese people there is more to do around this holiday.
Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important holiday in China; and as such it is the biggest, loudest nationwide celebration that effectively puts the whole country on hold for a period of one or two weeks. This is a family holiday centered around family reunion and traditions; and all family members are required to come home to attend the celebration. Consequently, traffic, especially rail and bus systems get insanely hectic, with people pushing, shoving, cursing and fighting their way to the tickets from the day they are being sold (if you plan to travel during this period, we suggest you book a plane ticket well in advance).
The first day of celebration is the last day of the year according to the lunar calendar, usually falling somewhere between January and February – in 2014, on January 31 (well, the main celebrations will actually take place on the eve of the previous day, so January 30.). In preparation for this holiday, and to avoid bad luck by upsetting the ancestral spirits, families will clean their houses, hang rhyming couplets or DuìLián 对联 on their fronts doors, and buy military supplies of gunpowder – be ready to be slightly disturbed: you’ll witness school children playing with rockets, and adults casually smoking next to their arsenals.
The celebrations vary across the country, but generally include: eating JiǎoZi, setting off firecrackers and fireworks (you know, to chase away the bad spirits), buying new clothes (traditionally in red color – red undies to be worn for extra good luck and wealth), giving red gift envelopes, HóngBāo 红包 to the children, watching the (5-hours lasting and deliciously boring) CCTV Spring Festival program (you have no choice really, all the other channels will broadcast it too).
This year we are entering the year of horse, so for all of you horses out there: this is gonna be your year, BěnNián (本年); so be ready for everything!