When I think of Spring Festival in China, images of red packets filled with money, heaps of food on the dinner table, and a seemingly endless barrage of fireworks comes to mind. But what does it all mean? Well, Spring Festival is the most important holiday for the Chinese culture, as it is their New Year celebration. Not only is it the longest holiday, but also the most expensive. It is estimated that during the 40 day period leading up to and following this holiday, 3.2 billion trips made by 300 million people will be made on the train network in China.
The official day this year is January 23rd, and earlier than the last few years. The weeks leading up to the holiday, people begin buying tickets to go home, as well as gifts to return with. People cram together like sardines on trains, making terribly long journeys to villages still relatively unknown to the West. Families anxiously await the arrival of loved ones at the station, but you won’t see them greet with a hug or kiss. They either walk, or take small private vans to their homes, where a feast is waiting to happen.
Hours, if not days, are spent in agony bent over a fire cutting vegetables, slaughtering and cleaning meat. The younger family members clean the home from top to bottom to prevent the bad from last year from haunting good fortune happening in the new year. This opportunity will give them the chance to start fresh, and forgive all wrongdoing. When the feast is ready, the entire family gathers together and serves each other, the elderly eating before the young.
The men drink a clear alcohol called “bai jiu,” or “white wine,” which resembles more like moonshine than wine. In between glasses of bai jiu, the men smoke their favorite cigarettes and gulp food. The women take care of the children, making sure they’ve all eaten. Once the meal is finished, the women clean up and the men prepare the fireworks.
Red packets get passed out, and bubbling children shake them franticly in the hopes of determining how much money is inside. In the eyes of the Chinese, the more money you give, the closer you are to that person. It is not uncommon to receive huge sums of money, upwards of 500rmb (equivalent to $90 USD). To give you an idea, the average Chinese person only earns 1500rmb a month, and this is quite difficult to survive on.
Drunken men regress to children as they blow things up with fireworks, and then join the children in playing games. These activities last for several days. Bittersweet memories cleanly etched into the minds of the younger generations, they sadly pack their things and cram back onto trains to return home to the city and await the next holiday: Tomb Sweeping Day.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr users scazon and tanakawho via a creative commons license.