Hugely vast and equally varied, at times, China feels like many countries rolled into one. But at winter’s end, there’s one thing sleepy villages among green rice terraces and gleaming metropolises have in common: celebrating Chinese New Year. The festivities are marked around the world, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing it on its home turf. Each region bursts into life every year, and you’ll never be far from the action at China’s best boutique hotels.
In China, pre-festival preparation means one thing – widespread Spring cleaning’. Dust (a Chinese homophone for old’) is swept out of each home, symbolising the end of winter and start of a new year. While we wouldn’t encourage cleaning on your country retreats or city breaks, why not join in by refreshing and revamping your wardrobe? Explore bustling, historic hútòngs in Beijing, with their food stalls and chic boutiques. Or splash out on Chunxi Road in Chengdu, and bag yourself some designer garments.
When the sun goes down, expect classic New Year’s Eve traditions. Dazzling fireworks exploding in the sky. Midnight countdowns and sleepless parties. Not to mention that fresh-start feeling of a brand-new year buzzing in the air. Experience Chinese New Year from the city streets, in a fine dining restaurant or with a private toast from the comfort of a luxury suite. No matter where you are, you’ll feel totally immersed in the celebrations.
Feasting on festive Chinese cuisine is a must. Dumplings, or jiaozi are a year-round staple, but are consumed in abundance at this time of year. Shaped like ancient currency Yuanbao, the Chinese believe these tasty treats will bring them wealth in the coming year – particularly if there’s a coin hidden inside them. Typically, the delicate dough is crammed full of juicy pork and cabbage or diced shrimp. They’re so moreish, you’ll be craving them long after your trip. It might even be worth taking a cooking course so you can bring them home with you.
If you’re looking for more foodie indulgence with a bonus side serving of prosperity, you’ll have a lot of choice over the Chinese New Year. Indulge in crucian carp or catfish, but be sure to leave leftovers – surplus fish promises surplus wealth the following year. Or why not try fermented red tofu? This silky sauce tastes great paired with braised belly pork and niangao – a sticky rice cake associated with higher income and social position.
On the 15th and final day of the new year celebrations, take part in the Lantern Festival. This is where the start of Spring is celebrated under the first full moon of the Chinese calendar. Historically, this dazzling event was held at temples, but in recent years, it’s been lighting up parks and communal spaces all over China.
Though it’s celebrated everywhere, one of the biggest (and best) events is in Qinhuai’s Confucius Temple. Strings of vibrant lanterns float in the air, shaped like globes, dragons and even goats. Look out for the captivating lion dancers performing in the streets – a tradition dating back to the Three Kingdoms Period.
Fun fact: When red lanterns are paired with streams of fireworks, the lit-up night is said to fend away evil spirits. In turn, this tradition brings good luck to all for the new year.
Be sure to leave room for further feasting once the new year arrives. Rice dumplings are dished out to hungry festivalgoers continuing their celebrations. Another traditional treat to look out for at the Lantern Festival is tngyuán. These small, sweet dumplings are an especially important staple, symbolising wholeness and family togetherness.