For those of you who were born or raised in the US ( I can't speak for other non-Chinese countries), Chinese New Year is one of those elusive holidays where you have no idea when it is until your parents tell you. Usually is involves just dinner at home with family and the most exciting part for the younger generation is the red envelopes (利是"lai see" in Cantonese). For those who don't know what a red envelope is, basically it is just a red envelope (pardon the obvious) that contains money. I will get into more details in a later post. We don't even get a day off for Chinese New Year unless you work for a Chinese owned company. If you live near a Chinatown, you may be lucky enough to join in some of the festivities (parades, lion dancing and fireworks)
In stark contrast, Chinese New Year is by far the biggest and most important holiday in China. Almost everyone gets about 10 days off, some even take extended holidays. Due to the migrant worker situation in China, this is the holiday where everyone makes their annual trek back to there hometown (老家 "lao jia" in Mandarin, "herng ha" in Cantonese). The traditional celebration is very festive. Everyone (I mean everyone) in the family gets together for a huge dinner on Chinese New Year's eve which takes days to prepare for and the full day to cook. Then at night, everyone watches the CCTV New Year's Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) which features performances ranging from acrobatics to comedic skits (more details in another post). At midnight, the sky is lit up with fireworks and practically the whole city (I experienced New Year's in Beijing) seems like it's at war. After midnight, people get together an make dumplings, play cards and just hang out together. The next 5-8 days, you are either visiting relatives or they are visiting you ( 拜年"bai neen" in Cantonese and "bai nian" in Mandarin).
All in all, celebrating Chinese New Year in China is much better than celebrating it anywhere else.
Unfortunately, as China is becoming more Westernized, many of these traditions are being watered down. More and more families are going out to eat and according to many Chinese I know, the holiday spirit wasn't what it use to be.
Feel free to share your experiences of Chinese New Year in the comments section!
To celebrate the upcoming New Year, the next few posts will be on subjects related to Chinese New Year. Topics will include red envelopes, the Chinese Zodiac, lion dance and even dumplings!