The Best Places to Celebrate Chinese New Year
In Western culture New Year’s Eve marks the end of the holiday season, but in other cultures, the New Year has yet to begin. Instead of the Gregorian calendar year, other regions in the world follow a lunisolar calendar, which has a different end and beginning date each year, as the date is dependent on the moon phase. One of the most distinguished Lunar New Year celebrations is Chinese New Year, which traditionally lasts for fifteen days total.
What is Chinese New Year?
Also known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year usually falls between the end of January and mid-February. Whereas western culture does not always consider New Year’s Eve or Day as a holiday, Chinese New Year is actually one of the longest public holidays in the Lunar Calendar. The length of the holiday is dependent on the country, the People’s Republic of China for example names the first three days as a holiday, but people actually end up having seven consecutive days off, while Malaysia and Singapore name a half day of work on New Year’s Eve as an unofficial holiday and have the first two days of the New Year off.
On New Years Eve, families gather together for the ‘Reunion Dinner’. Chinese New Year considers family a very central aspect of the celebration, with as many generations as possible coming together for the dinner. As there are several family members who work in the provinces who must travel great distances, special arrangement deals from railways, airlines and bus services that go into effect fifteen days before the New Year. This migration period is called chunyun, which is actually one of the world’s largest annual migrations.
Decorations include adorning windows, doors, and walkways with red decorations that are made of intricately cut paper, signifying themes of good fortune and happiness. Red oval-shaped lanterns are also hung through the streets, especially on the fifteenth day of the festival.
An important tradition related to Chinese New Year is a deep cleansing of the house, which is intended to clear away any remaining bad luck from the previous year in order to make way for the impending good luck. Families will sometimes clean for several days to ensure cleanliness.
One of the most favourite Chinese New Year traditions is the giving of money in small red envelopes. These envelopes are called hongbao and are most often given from elders to children, and it is customary that children wish their elders a fortunate and happy new year prior to accepting the envelope.
Other rituals include dragon and lion dances, traditional auspicious dishes and of course fire crackers and fireworks.
So Where Should You Go?
As afore mentioned, people usually travel to where their families have decided to congregate, but when it comes to traveling to a destination to see the most vibrant, culture rich or party hard celebrations take a look at the list below to take part in the Chinese New Year action!
The multicultural population that inhabits Shanghai greatly influence the celebrations in the exotic Paris of the East. Two of the most prominent celebrations that occur in Shanghai include superfluous entertainment and heading to the temples to pray and the ringing of the bells. There are several music performances that range from classical to rock to Chinese folk genres, and more, which are usually highly attended by the younger generation. A more traditional New Years ritual that Shanghai is known for is heading to the Longhua Temple, where people congregate to be present for the ceremonial ringing of the bronze bell, which is believed to ward off evil and bring good luck. The Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar is a good place to check out the Lantern Parade that signifies the conclusion of the festival.
Beijing is the cream of the crop when it comes to Lunar New Year celebrations. As afore mentioned, Chinese New Year is a family affair, so see if you can find a family to couch surf with for the festival! You’ll get the chance to be immersed in an authentic Chinese celebration. There are several fairs and circus entertainment options throughout the city at temples and parks. The Dongyue Temple Fair and Ditan Park Temple Fair are definitely worth checking out. Several families head to the temples to honour their ancestors and gods, the Temple of Heaven has a heaven worshipping ceremony, which dates back to 1748.
You might think it strange that London would be on the list of places that celebrate Chinese New Year in a big way, but the London festivities have actually garnered acclaim as the largest Chinese New Year celebrations out of Asia. Chinatown erupts with street stalls exhibiting traditional food, crafts and costumes, while the main parade travels from the West End to Trafalgar Square where the celebration culminates with lion dancers, circus performances and other entertainment.
Claiming the title as Asia’s largest Chinese population outside of main land China, Singapore’s celebrations are second to none. Singapore’s Chinatown takes the cake with raucous performances and events in the streets, carnival side show exhibitions, shopping bazaars and the International lion Dance Competition. If you are looking to explore other parts of Singapore, check out Smith Street, which has amazing open-air food markets to engorge oneself, while the Marina Bay Floating Platform and a few other waterfront establishments will explode with lanterns and lights and host local concerts.
The festivities in Hong Kong are a little bit different compared to main land China with a fusion of modern entertainment and ancient rituals. Sometimes considered one of the world’s best festivals, the three days that Hong Kong takes to celebrate the New Year are filled with flashy parades in Tsim Sha Tsui, gigantic fireworks displays and the trademark tradition of the Spring Festival Races. Several people head to Hong Kong during this time so be prepared for some unruly crowds, tons of shopping and a flourishing atmosphere of good cheer and happiness. Not to forget, Hong Kong Disneyland organizes New Years events so even Mickey can be part of your New Year’s celebration.
How Can I Get There?
With regards to the locations in China, travelling during this time period can be tricky given how popular it is to head home to loved ones for the Reunion Dinner, but just be sure to prepare your transportation measures well in advance. Upon arrival, also be prepared to navigate some hectic bus stops, and be ready for bus and train tickets to sell out though if you are lucky enough to snag a spot, prices will likely be increased during this time period.
Prepare to bring a cozy wardrobe since late January and Early February are actually the coldest periods in China.
When it comes to visas, there are several different types, but the tourist visa is the most common for short-term travellers. China’s process is relatively straightforward and the steps for applying can be viewed here.
Singapore will allow you in as long as you have travel documents that are valid for 6 months, an onward or return ticket out of Singapore, and enough funds to support your time in Singapore, for specific requirements, you can check here. The visa requirements for Hong Kong and that UK vary depending on the country you are arriving from.
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Thanks Chelsea for a great article! Chinese Spring Festival is indeed a great holiday for people of China. The dates are different from year to year and in 2015 it going to be the 18th of February. 2015 will be the year of the sheep so try to limit yourself in eating lamb meat as this will not be a good sign!