It’s the most anticipated time of the year in China, but for foreigners or travelers new to the country, the Chinese Spring Festival period can be a little bewildering. For anyone left scratching their heads over this wonderful but hectic period, we asked our CCTV Chinese staff for tips on how non-locals can make the most of the Chinese New Year. Enjoy!
1. Major cities and tourist spots become good places to visit
“Foreigners should visit all the big cities and tourist sites they’ve always wanted to go to.” –Fran Lu
While some suggest not leaving the house during Chinese New Year, it’s actually a great time to visit major cities like Beijing and Shanghai as well as the tourist hot spots, as most Chinese head home to their families around this time, turning these places into good places to visit.
So although it’s best to avoid long distance travel by train, make sure to do some inner-city exploring.
2. Join a local family
“The Eve of Chinese New Year is very important. So family supper is a huge feast, and at midnight there are fireworks to sweep away ill fortune.”-Welton Wang
Ask any Chinese and they’ll tell you the only way to really experience Chinese New Year is at a local family dinner. With dumplings and every kind of food imaginable (and some not), the New Year’s dinner is a feast of the truest kind. It’s also a tradition to watch the CCTV Spring Festival Gala until midnight, when families often gather to let off fireworks welcoming in the New Year.If you’re lucky enough to get invited to a family’s home, don’t forget to take hongbao (red envelopes with money) for the children, as it’s tradition.
3. Keep an eye on your valuables
“Watch your bags closely, because you don’t want to lose that fancy new iPhone on your way to celebrations.”-Helen Dang
Any major event promising swarms of people is a draw card for trouble makers with sticky fingers. The Spring Festival is certainly no different. So keep an eye on your bags, pockets, phone etc. as you make your way around the big crowds. And stay alert for scammers who might like to take advantage of the overwhelmed and starry eyed non-locals.
4. Book early and make use of the refund period
“Pay attention to the 15 days before the festival, which has been hailed the‘refund period’.” –Teddy
Travel tickets are notoriously hard to come by around the Chinese New Year, so it’s vital to book early. But if you happened to know that you’ve been invited to last-minute celebrations in another city, you might still have a chance as people often sell back their tickets for a full refund if it’s 15 days before they travel. So keep an eye out as you’ll have to be fast for the second rounds.
5. Get ready for the mega sales
“Grab a chance to go shopping, as the discounts are great” –Joy Liu
While there’s a lot of hype around the Single’s Day sales, the New Year Holiday period is when the competition for customers really gets serious. While it varies from shop to shop, the biggest sales days are from the 1st of February until the 17th, when most shops close, although between the 18th to the 25th some shops open for special discount days. So make sure to make the most of this shopping bonanza while you’re over here.
6. Go to a temple fair
“The vendors sell hundreds of types of Chinese snacks. Also, you can buy beautiful traditional handcrafts.”-Welton Wang
In many cities around China, it’s common for people to go to the temple fairs around the holiday period, and it’s a great chance for foreigners to get a taste of local culture. While it’s traditional for people to pray at the temple fairs, there’s also entertainment, shopping and local food snacks. You can also get an opportunity to see live handcraft shows, where audiences can see how local art is produced.
7. Get everywhere earlier than usual
“I used to go to the station on time carrying HEAPS of luggage… Now I know to arrive an hour earlier at least.”–Leona Li
While getting to flights and trains at least an hour earlier than you normally would is good advice, the same goes for attending any major event, as you can expect long lines and heavy delays along the way. Take a book, water and snacks.