New Year’s Eve is synonymous with fireworks, fun and plenty of festive cocktails. There’s one nation that blows everyone out of the water when it comes to celebrating another year around the sun. The Chinese pull out all the stops for their New Year, with the streets bursting full of colour, tables of delicious food to eat and, of course, dancing dragons - they really know how to throw a party. I've traced some of the origins and traditions of the Chinese New Year, and discovered why there is so much red everywhere.
What's It All About?
The Chinese New Year is colourful, festive and lots of fun - everything a big celebration should be. However, it isn’t just about the earth becoming another year older. The Chinese are very superstitious and believe that luck weighs heavily in their lives, so a 15-day long Spring Festival takes place to fit in all the wonderful traditions that are said to bring luck and good fortune for the year ahead. Working from the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year date changes every year, always falling on the second new moon after the winter solstice. For 2018, that special date is Friday 16 February and this year marks the Year of the Dog.
The Chinese New Year has pretty terrifying origins if the myths and legends are to be believed. According to the old tales passed down over the years, the Chinese New Year began with a fight against a mythical beast called the Nian which (coincidentally) translates as 'Year' in Chinese. The creature looks a bit like a huge ox with a lion’s head and wasn't known for being very friendly. As the legend goes, on the night of New Year’s Eve, the beast would come out of its home in the sea and destroy houses, eat livestock and attack people - specifically children. All very frightening.
However, the Chinese folk weren’t to be scared for too long. An elderly wise man arrived in the particular village that was being terrorised, year after year, and he told the assembled villagers that he'd discovered the things Nian feared the most. These included the colour red - which is why it is thought of as a lucky colour - fire and loud noises. The villagers used all of those things to ward off the dangerous beast. Soon, houses were painted red and bamboo fires were lit to keep the villagers safe, and thankfully they never saw Nian again.
Thankfully, delicious food is one of the main ingredients that makes the Chinese New Year so brilliant. The Family Reunion Dinner is one of the most important meals of the year, and family members travel far and wide to be with their loved ones for the celebrations, so it’s usually quite a busy day. Dumplings are always served, as they are thought to bring wealth, so they will always be on the table. Fish is another dinner staple, being served as a last course - but intentionally never finished - as again, it is thought to bring good fortune if there is some left over.
However, there are plenty of other dishes that diners are expected to devour completely, so there’s no need to worry about that particular issue if you’re in it just for the food!
The Ancient Traditions
The Chinese are very traditional, generally, as a culture, and New Year is packed full of superstitions and traditions that are observed in villages, towns and cities in Chinese communities across the world, and not just in China itself. Preparations for New Year are just as important as the main event. Prior to the New Year, homes are given a thorough spring clean - out with the old and in with the new - and many people buy new clothing for the festivities.
Decorations are bought and hung up. Beautiful red and gold lanterns adorn ceilings and trees, and just about everywhere there’s a space, as they are thought to drive off bad luck. Spring Festival couplets written on red banners will be pasted onto doors - usually wishing good thoughts for the New Year - and pretty decorative papercuts with themes of prosperity, luck and health for example, are stuck onto windows.
For the younger members of the family, gifts of money in red envelopes are handed out to them for good luck. For those children who are part of a large family or friendship group, it can be quite a profitable time for them!
As ever with New Year’s Eve, there are fireworks at midnight, which people generally stay up to watch or set off their own if they wish. Though the fireworks do continue right throughout the Spring Festival, so there are always frequent colourful displays in the skies for days after the main event, so be prepared for all the whizzes and bangs in the days and nights that follow.
The streets and parks of the bigger towns and cities in China are filled with colourful parades, nearly always having the traditional lion and dragon dances at their heart. Performers banging drums mark the beat of everyone having plenty of fun partying out on the streets. Known as Temple Fairs, they’re a great place to go on New Year’s Day and, indeed, the day after if you're in Beijing, to soak up some of the fantastic atmosphere, though most Temple Fairs do last for much of the Spring Festival. Parks are decorated with lanterns, colourful fans, flowers and paper firecrackers, while there are stalls everywhere selling pretty trinkets and traditional crafts, so you can pick up a souvenir or two. Of course, there will be plenty of stalls for you to taste the food and stock the children up on sweet snacks too.
Where To Go
There are so many Temple Fairs across Beijing, we’ve picked out a couple of the biggest and the best which we consider worth visiting. However, you'll find so many of these dotted all around the city, you won't be short of choice.
Changdian Temple Fair in the Xicheng District is one of the oldest fairs in Beijing. There will be performances, such as acrobatics, lion and dragon dances, operas, and even a magician or two. You’ll also be able to buy products such as art, calligraphy and antiques from the stalls.
Ditan Temple Fair in the Dongcheng District is one of the most popular of the fairs, so expect to wade through larger crowds here. There is a re-enactment of when the Ming and Qing rulers performed sacrifices to the God of Earth and it is definitely worth watching, together with all the regular performances. There are many traditional Chinese folk traditions on display, with items made using traditional craftwork which you can buy to take home with you, serving as a reminder in the years to come of all you learned about the Chinese people, their culture and legends, while on holiday here.
The Spring Festival really is a great time to visit China to soak up some of the happy, infectious culture and, hopefully, some of that Chinese good luck. Celebrations happen all over the country, so no matter where you’ve picked as your holiday base, you’ll be able to enjoy the festivities.
Where To Stay
RCI has 220 affiliated resorts in China so there are plenty to choose from if you want to explore this vibrant country. Of course, you don’t just have to visit at New Year, the country is fabulous for a holiday at any time of the year.
So, if you’re looking to try something new, experience a new culture and take part in one of the biggest parties of the year, look no further than China for your next holiday of a lifetime. There’s so much to do in this oriental escape, with everything from golden beaches to the bright lights of the bustling cities, shopping and excellent cuisine, China has something that will capture the attention of any holidaymaker.
Here are a selection of RCI Affiliated resorts available to RCI members.
Jiuhua Spa and Resort (3954), Beijing
Set in 98 acres of beautiful grounds, it shares the historical sites of the ancient Ming and Qing dynastic palaces, so there’s plenty to see. For those who want to indulge in some spa time, it is situated in the Xiaotangshan Spa grounds - one of the finest spa areas in China, so you’re in great hands. It is the perfect base for visiting and exploring the Imperial Palace, the Great Wall, the Ming Imperial Tombs, the Xiangshan Mountain, and the Temple of Heaven. Perfect.
Sandalwoods Resort & Spa (D471), Guangdong
This is the ultimate resort for relaxation. Located on the beautiful Pearl River, close to the beach, you can spend days chilling out on the sand or indulging in scuba diving and many other water sports. Back at the modern resort, there’s an infinity pool, sauna and hot tub to ensure you are as relaxed as possible. Families can benefit from children’s pools and a babysitting service, while a games room provides a welcome break from the sun when you want to cool off and chill out.
Beijing Badaling Hot Spring Resort (A530), Beijing
If you’re looking for a great base to explore some of Beijing’s main attractions, then Beijing Badaling Hot Spring Resort is perfect. It is a quiet, relaxing resort with a fabulous spa perfect for reviving your aching legs after a long day exploring the Great Wall, which is nearby. There are 32 ponds and 18 different types of hot springs in the resort for you to soak your troubles away in. Bliss.
China is a fantastic place to experience any time of the year, so for your next holiday, consider this wonderful and very colourful country. If you are an RCI member, why not take a look at our Resort Directory and start planning, now, to be part of one of the most colourful New Year Celebrations in the world to see in Chinese New Year 2019 in China, and in style! To see where you might be staying, click on the button below.
If you own timeshare and like the idea of using an RCI membership to widen your holiday horizons so that you can experience more of the world, you can sign up to RCI membership in just a few simple steps. Click on the button below and follow the simple instructions.