Spring Festival – What happens in China? How do you prepare?

The Christmas tree has been dismantled and the tinsel has been tucked away for one more year. The Festive Season is over in many parts of the world, but not in China, where everyone is gearing up for round two. Longer. Louder. Loads more food. The Spring Festival is coming soon.


One of the delights of living and working in China is experiencing cultural events like the Spring Festival at first hand. Like Christmas, it’s a time for being with family and it is rich with tradition. Like New Year’s Eve in the West, there is a midnight countdown as one year gives way to the next. For the expat teacher living in China it is holiday time as the culture blooms around you.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of this most auspicious of Chinese festivals:



Give a gift to your gate man: That guy in the uniform in the booth by your gate has been watching you walk past all year. Why not give him something? Bonus points if you give him a calendar from your home country. You win the key to his eternal gratitude if you give him a toy koala that he can give to his kids or grandkids.


Give a hongbao to your Ayi: Red is lucky. A Red envelope with money in it is luckier. If you give your Ayi a hongbao with the equivalent of a month’s salary in it, she will think she is the luckiest cleaning lady person ever. Satisfaction guaranteed.


Get a haircut: Hit the salon on Chinese New Year’s Eve for a full blast of cultural immersion. Shampoo? Check. Trim? Check. Shoulder massage? Check. High energy pop music blasting from the stereo? Obviously.


Get some new clothes: Splash out on a fresh ensemble and strut it out on New Year’s Day. If the new year coincides with your Chinese Zodiac Animal you need to get red underpants also.


Clean your home: This is a good idea most of the time, but if you give your apartment a thorough sweeping on New Year’s Eve you are also observing a centuries old tradition that represents getting rid of the old and making way for the new.



Set off fireworks: Fireworks used to be a mainstay of the Spring Festival experience that reached a berserk crescendo on new year’s night. The air was so thick you could chew on it. Fun. Exciting. Loud. The fireworks from different nights were associated with different agendas. Scaring away bad luck. Attracting good luck. Honoring relatives who had passed away.


In recent years this custom has been outlawed due to the heinous pollution it caused. The air is now chilly, crisp, and pollution free on New Year’s night, perfect for walking off the inevitably heavy and sumptuous meal. If you meet anyone, say Gong Xi Fa Cai! You will surely get the same in return.