Chinese New Year is China’s most important holiday and a fascinating time to be in Shanghai if you play your cards right. The history of the holiday, referred to as Spring Festival in China, dates back more than 2,000 years with traditions that continue on today.
Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the first lunar month of the year, typically falling sometime during January or February. In 2014, the New Year will fall on January 31. Many Chinese people, particularly those in the older generation, count this as the beginning of a new year, and many use the Lunar New Year as a mark of their age instead of their birthdays. While most of the activity centers around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day, festivities continue on for several days.
During the New Year holiday, nearly everyone in the country returns to their hometowns, and since Shanghai has a sizable population of individuals who’ve come from the countryside to find work, it empties out significantly during this period. On the eve of the Lunar New Year, families gather together to eat, drink and watch the CCTV New Years Gala on television. At midnight (and sometimes even earlier), long strands of firecrackers are lit outside of each house to chase away the evil spirits of the previous year and welcome the ancestral spirits into the home.
On New Year’s Day, families bring offerings of food and drink to family shrines or local temples before paying visits to neighbors, friends and relatives. In Shanghai, 108 lucky people get tickets to visit the Jade Buddha Temple and ring the bell, only opened to the public twice per year. It is believed that the closer to midnight you ring it, the more auspicious.
As with most holidays around the world, food plays an integral part in the New Year celebrations, particularly on New Year’s Eve when families gather together for a Reunion Dinner. In Shanghai, rice cakes, sweet glutinous rice balls, fish, sticky rice with eight toppings, sauteed greens and tofu with bean sprouts often make an appearance.
Tips and Reminders
If you’re in Shanghai for the Chinese New Year, remember that most restaurants and nearly all tourist attractions will be closed. Spending the holiday with a Chinese family is the best way to really experience the holiday, but if you can’t swing that, plan to visit a few of Shanghai’s temples and shrines. The New Year holiday is also a great time to walk around Shanghai, taking in the historic and modern architecture. It may be the only time all year where you’ll have the sidewalk to yourself.
Also, if you’ve ever wanted to to set off fireworks — the big kind — then now’s the time. Vendors set up shop all over the city, and you’ll see impressive displays from every street corner on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Read more about things to do in Shanghai in winter.
- Lydia Schrandt