Chinese New Year is almost upon us, so I thought I’d do a two-parter about China’s biggest holiday. Next week I’ll post about food, and this week will be all about what to expect if you’re invited for family dinner or if you just want to know some of the more popular traditions.
What is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year, also known as CNY, is basically like Thanksgiving. There’s a big family meal, and in place of football, money. Lai see, or red packets, are envelopes with crisp new bills inside that married people give to singletons. On New Year’s Eve, many get off early and then it’s shopping madness. It’s popular custom to get new shoes and clothes to wear over the holiday, and to get a haircut beforehand. At midnight, there are fireworks in major cities, but in the villages, the police turn a blind eye when many families go crazy with the fireworks.
The first day of CNY is all about family. Families come together and have a giant meal after playing mah jong – a board game that originated in China. If you are invited to a family dinner, bring fruit, nuts or chocolate. I’ll go into more detail in Part Two. The dinner lasts for hours with several types of meat, seafood, veg, noodles and more.
Traditions vary by how clan, village and devoutness. Many go to the temple on the first day, and others will refrain from bathing or washing their hair on the second day. Some are vegetarian on a certain day, and others do the spring cleaning over the holiday rather than before it just because they don’t have time with work.
What can you do during Chinese New Year?
If you find yourself alone in China, Taiwan or HK over CNY, it may seem like the apocalypse. Everyone goes home to their family village, and even 7-11 closes on the third day of the new year. Many family owned businesses are closed anywhere from the first three to 14 days of the new year. Hiking is a probably the most popular way to spend the holiday. It’s also prime time to go shopping (if it’s open) or just go for a long walk and enjoy the empty sidewalks.
Do you have any plans for CNY?
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