Tips for the spring festival: the things you shouldn’t miss!

Posted by Elita on 2. Feb 2011

Thank goodness the biggest Chinese ‘migration’ (春运chūnyùn) of the year is almost done, the crazy-crowded train stations and airports are gradually going back to normal, and you can see red lanterns and rabbits everywhere! Of course, it’s all due to the most important holiday in China: Spring Festival! How should you spend the 16 days—including the eve of the lunar New Year—of the festival? Here are some tips to help you welcome the year of the rabbit!

除夕(chúxī): Lunar New Year’s Eve

The festivities around the Lunar New Year go from February 2nd to the 17th in 2011. February 2nd, which is known as 除夕 (chúxī) and also as 大年三十 (dànián sānshí), is the first day and the most important day for locals, as it’s when families hold reunion dinner parties. To get a taste of being local without finding a family of one’s own, one could gather friends to cook together. Don’t forget to turn on the TV and check out CCTV’s spring festival program, a marathon lasting for four hours—there’s no need to feel guilty if it outlasts you! It’s highly recommended to divert your attention by making dumplings while watching, as you’ll be mixing two of the current-day traditions going on in apartments around you.

The First Three Days of the Lunar New Year (

The first day (大年初一) officially begins at midnight, and as the moment arrives, in any neighborhood with a bit of humanity to it, the fireworks become deafening. For those with families around, these three days are for visiting relatives to pay one’s respects (it’s literally called 走亲戚zǒuqīnqi and 拜年bàinián). If you’re involved in the process, there are slight differences among the days, such as during the first day the more senior of relatives should be called on. As far as expats are concerned, though, action will probably have to be found elsewhere—such as at the lively temple fairs!


Temple fairs(庙会miàohuì) have changed over time, but they’ve long been an integral part of the Lunar New Year for many. The modern incarnation of the temple fair is a good place to buy New Year’s decorations, to watch lion dancing, shadow puppet plays, and, crucially, to taste special snacks! There are 33 temple fairs in 2011’s spring festival—but who’s counting?—so here are some recommendations to help you narrow the field:


The Ditan Temple Fair (地坛庙会) and the Longtanhu Temple Fair(龙潭湖庙会), both from Feburary 2nd to 9th) have been quite popular. While the entry fee is only 10 yuan, some might try their luck with one of the themed activities at the Ditan Temple Fair this year, centering around the search for love (相亲会xiāngqīnhuì)—a steal at only 50rmb. Longtanhu Temple Fair is marketing tradition differently, arranging for various folk art shows over the days. As one of the most traditional fairs, the White Cloud Temple Fair (白云观庙会) can also be worth attending (from February 3rd to 19th, also 10rmb for the entrance fee.)


元宵节Yuan Xiao Festival

The fifteenth day of the New Year is celebrated as the Yuan Xiao Festival. Rice dumplings (汤圆 tāngyuán), sweet glutinous-rice balls in soup, are eaten on this day. The day is also called the lantern festival, and people walk in the street carrying lanterns. Although lanterns lit by candles are preferred for style and tradition, nowadays many lanterns live on batteries alone.

Some final notes about the spring festival:

* Fish (鱼yú) is a must-have dish at Chinese reunion dinners, for the phrase ‘may there be a bountiful surplus’ sounds similar in China to ‘may there be fish’—but don’t flip the fish!;

* Can’t hurt to clean your apartment, for ‘washing away the dirt brings luck and fortune!’;

* Set off some fireworks, but be aware that there are official restrictions on timing;

* Wear more layers when you go to a temple fair, as it might well be bloody cold outside;

* Check your wardrobe for something red, something new, or at the least something clean and neat that doesn’t reveal how much fun you’ve [hopefully!] been having. Happy Spring Festival! (春节快乐 xīnnían kuaìlè!)


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