In China, the biggest holiday of the year is the Chinese New Year. Also referred to as the Lunar New Year, the dates of this holiday are different each year as they follow the lunar calendar. Generally speaking, it usually takes place in late January or early February. If you’d like to experience the magic of visiting China during this celebratory holiday, plan ahead to ensure you’ll be there for the festivities.
It’s also celebrated in other Asian countries, but China is the best place to celebrate Chinese New Year. Before you book your trip to China during the Chinese New Year though, these tips will help you to have the best possible experience during your visit.
Be ready for travel chaos
For the Chinese New Year, the entire country virtually shuts down. Because many people travel to big cities to work, they begin the trek back home, typically by railway about a month prior to the actual event. Airports and other modes of transport tend to get really busy. As China designates less airspace than America does, there are not as many flights. Add to that any weather problems and you can expect that delays might be something you’ll have to grapple with. So the best bet is to arrive in advance of when the airports get really crazy.
Landmarks will be crowded
China is a place that has loads more people than you’ve ever seen all at once. For the Chinese New Year, everything closes down and the entire nation has off from work. That means that all of them will be coming to see the same landmarks as you. If you want to see the Great Wall, try to arrange your trip so you’ll arrive just before everyone starts getting off of work so you’ll have less people to contend with.
Lots of businesses will be closed
There will certainly be places open, but they will be few and far between, much like during Christmas and New Year’s in the states. There’s not much you can do about that except be prepared to have to come up with new ideas on the fly when something you wanted to visit is closed.
Celebrate Small Chinese New Year
One week before the actual big day that kicks off the week-long holiday, Chinese people celebrate what is known as Small Chinese New Year. Because they love the holiday and often can’t wait to celebrate, this kicked off a special celebration of its own. If you have the good fortune of having Chinese hosts, you’ll get a chance to partake in this. If not, the hotel you’re staying at can offer some advice as to how to celebrate and may even have special dinners lined up at their on-site restaurants. You will likely need reservations though so be sure to ask, plan and reserve in advance.
Join a traditional Chinese New Year dinner
The Chinese New Year officially kicks off with a big dinner. Families gather together for a feast of epic proportions. Again, if you can manage to get invited to an authentic Chinese New Year dinner by your Chinese hosts, this will be the best possible way to get in on the fun. There is a lot of food and lots of drinking too. It’s a merry holiday full of happiness and celebrations. Dig in and enjoy, whether you’re at someone’s home or at a hotel dinner. But pace yourself too. There is no end to the food and the process of eating and drinking goes on for hours and hours. The most traditional dish served during this meal is jiaozi, or dumplings.
Watch the fireworks
Americans tend to let off fireworks on two occasions – The Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. In China, at the start of the Chinese New Year, fireworks will start going off as the sun goes down and they will go on ALL night. And all week! It can get really noisy after a while and with all those emissions, the air quality tends to be particularly awful afterward but the sight of so many fireworks in the sky is truly glorious. Still, most foreigners grow weary of hearing it for days on end so be aware that the noise is not likely to stop until the end of the holiday.
Check out the Chinese New Year’s Gala shows
China’s big news channel, CCTV, has national and regional divisions, each one with interesting Chinese New Year shows to watch. You might not understand a single word but there’s no need to. The music, the costumes and the dances are all spectacular, plus they tend to be speckled with famous people you’ll even recognize from Celine Dion to Jackie Chan.
Accept red envelopes with grace
One last thing that you’ll find is that you may be presented with little red envelopes or red packets. This is very traditional for Chinese people to give them to their friends and relatives and you just might be so fortunate to get one yourself. If you do, simply thank the giver and tuck it into your pocket or bag. It is considered very rude by Chinese people to open any gift in front of the giver or you will look greedy. If you are being hosted by a Chinese family, it’s a good idea to present them with a red packet as well.
Knowing the ins and outs of the Chinese New Year celebration will make your visit to China during this time so much better. Get in on the fun and book your trip to China for Chinese New Year today!