Chinese New Year is China’s most important holiday and a fascinating time to be in Shanghai. 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 2015, the New Year will fall on February 19. While most of the activity centers around the New Year’s Eve family reunion dinner and New Year’s day, festivities continue on for 15 official “New Year” days.
Shanghai has a sizable population of individuals who’ve come from the countryside to find work, so the city empties out significantly during the CNY period as many people return to their hometowns to celebrate with family. 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 in good luck for the rest of the year. Businesses will also light firecrackers during auspicious times throughout the week to wish for wealth and prosperity.
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.
Usually, Yu Garden will host a lantern festival and visitors will congregate at the fortune tree to make wishes for the New Year. There is also a huge fireworks spectacle on the Huangpu River, and crowds gather on the Bund for ooh’s and ahh’s. However, these events have unfortunately been cancelled due to the recent tragic December 31st New Year’s Eve stampede.
Despite this, you can still visit the Jade Buddha Temple and Longhua Temple for traditional celebrations. There are plenty of other pop-up markets around town and at the courtyard of shopping malls selling festive knickknacks and discounted goods.
Food plays an integral part in the Chinese New Year celebrations, particularly on New Year’s Eve when families gather together for a Reunion Dinner. In Shanghai, niangao (rice cakes), tangyuan (sweet glutinous rice balls), fish and babaofan (sticky rice with ‘eight treasures’ of toppings) all have auspicious connotations and are almost mandatory during celebratory meals.
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 during the first few days of the holiday. 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. This is also a great time to walk around Shanghai, taking in both the historic and modern architecture. It may be the only time all year where you’ll have the sidewalk to yourself.
Read more about things to do in Shanghai in winter.