Chinese New Year is to China (and much of Asia) what the Christmas season is to the West. This most important holiday of the year in China is a time when families gather together to honor their ancestors while preparing for the upcoming year. Traveling during the annual festival offers a unique look at the people and culture of this great nation.
Where to Go
For the most part, all the big restaurants and attractions will be open for Chinese New Year, especially since so many people use this time to travel. Where you choose to spend the holiday largely depends on the type of experience you want to have. Tier one cities like Beijing and Shanghai put on huge fireworks shows and will have a wider variety of attractions to visit during the holiday, while smaller cities, like Yangshuo, Lijiang or Dali, will give you a more local experience. These smaller cities have loose fireworks laws, and at times you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a war with firecrackers and huge fireworks going off for days on end. Since Chinese New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are both family-centric holidays, the ultimate way to spend them is with a Chinese family.
What to do
During New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, most people attend large family dinners and set off fireworks. In Shanghai, head to the Longhua Temple to ring the bell for good luck in the new year. In Beijing, attend one of numerous temple fairs. In either city, try to book a room on a high floor with a window where you can sit back and enjoy the pyrotechnics. During the holiday, sometimes called Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, there may be lavish lantern festivals as well.
If you are invited to visit a Chinese family during the holiday, be sure to bring along a gift of sweets or fruits as a sign of respect and well-wishes.
What to Eat
Since the holiday is about abundance, health and wealth, food plays an integral role in Chinese New Year festivities. In particular, the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner is the main meal, and certainly the biggest. While there are regional differences in the traditional foods eaten for the holiday, expect to see fish, dumplings and glutinous rice cakes throughout the country. All three foods are thought to bring luck and prosperity in the year to come.
- Get wherever you’re going to spend the holiday a few days early. Trains, planes and buses are packed in the days leading up to the holiday, as everyone is going home to see their families.
- Some shops and restaurants are closed on the first few days of the holiday, so be sure to check ahead.
- Book everything early, from your hotel room to your dinner reservations.
- Bring ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper as fireworks begin on New Year’s Eve and can go on intermittently throughout the holiday.