The Chinese Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) has a history of nearly 4000 years and is the most important annual celebration for Chinese people.
Rather than being a religious festival, the Chinese Spring festival was traditionally a time to honor deities as well as ancestors within China.
Most businesses shut down because, like Christmas, Chinese New Year is a public holiday, and most people take up to 10 days off. However, because it is not a religious ceremony, it is legal to keep your business open. Most shopping malls stay open to boost sales, because people give gifts to ring out the old year, and ring in the New Year.
“Chinese New Year” is not the same day each year like Christmas on our Gregorian calendar. Although it occurs on January 1st of the Chinese lunar calendar, this usually falls on a different date each year between late January and mid February. This year it is on Tuesday 5th Feb.
The Spring Festival public holiday period lasts for seven days. Some people choose to combine a few days of their annual leave with this long period to make it a 10 day or two-week holiday if they are going to travel. Most people only get seven days’ holiday. Chinese workers don’t typically get any holidays at Christmas unless they work in a foreign capital enterprise.
Due to the uneven pace of development of Eastern and Western China – and because young people make a living in big eastern coastal cities while the older generation enjoy their retirement life back home – it is the time that people travel from where they work to where their parents are. Chinese Spring Festival is the largest annual mass human migration in the world.
Regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the New Year vary widely. But like Christmas, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is frequently regarded as an occasion for Chinese families to gather for a family feast.
Food consumed varies among regions and what the traditional favourites are in your family. Ivy Cui, Chinese Digital Manager at Alexanders Digital Marketing says “my favorite festival dish is Sliced Spiced Beef dipped in Vinegar and Chilli sauce. Scrumptious!”
With regards to traveling, traditionally people choose to visit their parents/grandparents at this time of year and catch up with other relatives. However, more and more people prefer to take the holiday opportunity to travel in China or overseas with friends or families – the family nature of the season being a key reason why Chinese often travel in family groups. Popular overseas destinations are Asian countries such as Japan, Thailand, or Singapore.
Some people also make the effort to make a long distance trip. On “Double Eleven Singles Day” (November 11th), Fliggy (an important itinerary website) sells discounted airline tickets or travel packages for the period of Spring Festival. Singles Day is written “11.11”. In China it is known as as “bare sticks holiday” because of how it is written numerically.
As a side-note, Singles Day began as an anti-Valentine’s Day in the 1990’s when students at Nanjing University started celebrating in their single dorm. It was then adopted by e-commerce giant Alibaba (China’s Amazon equivalent) in 2009. The commercial opportunity was spotted by Alibaba who began launching “Double 11” deals, and it has now become a day when everyone – regardless of their single status – buys themselves gifts. It is also a great shopping time to fill the gap between the National Holiday in October and the Christmas season.
Ivy shares that Chinese people really like buying products that are not made in China on their Spring Festival overseas trip. Most retail businesses will have Spring Festival sales accordingly.
The year of the pig
2019 is the year of Pig. The pig is the twelfth of the 12-year cycle animals, which appear in the Chinese zodiac calendar. There are five types of Pigs, named after the Chinese elements. In order, they are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth.
Because of the special time of the year, the Chinese super-app Wechat carries messages that we don’t normally see at other times with news about what’s happening. Promotions include but are not limited to: airline tickets sales (in tandem with third party OTA (online travel agent) platforms), ideas for special purchases for the Spring Festival to take home, and travel safety guidelines.
Some businesses also run a red packet campaign with Wechat Red Packet (Red Packet is a monetary gift given during holidays or special occasions like weddings, graduation and having a baby). It works in many ways, such as:
- Receive a random number of red packets with any purchase;
- Scan the QR code to receive a red packet (voucher) before you buy (WeChat features an online wallet that you can load money into, and use as a payment method online or at point of sale)
- Invite your WeChat friends to share links and pictures to receive red packets
- Invite your friends to help you on getting the airline or train tickets through ticket snatching software, which increase the chance of obtaining a ticket
Gifts vary from food and drinks that can be used for dinner on [Chinese] New Year’s Eve and the following days, to clothes, shoes, supermarket deposit cards, appliances, furniture, or just money (“red packets”). Workers often give valuable gifts to their boss or team leader in order to show respect. Such gifts range from food, liquor, drinks, cigarettes, or expensive fruit (cherries from NZ, pineapple from Thailand, oranges from America) through to shopping mall gift cards and travel packages.
There are a lot of festival decorations put up around Chinese New Year. Dragons may come out when it is the Year of Dragon. The base color is typically red and yellow. The main themes include “Spring”, “Animal of the year”, “New Year”, and “May you be happy and prosperous”.
One of the essential decorations is a Spring Festival “couplet” that you put on either side of your front door. Traditionally, the messages were written by a brush pen on red paper, and put up on New Year’s Eve before dinner. Now people print them to make them prettier. Ivy recalls “my grandfather used to write the couplet banners and I would put them up with my cousins. It marks the official start of Spring Festival.” Chinese put a lot of thought into the content of Spring Festival couplets which are poetic, with powerful and clever maxims and axioms.
If you’d like to know more about how your business can reach Chinese, please get in touch with Rachel or Ivy Cui (after she returns from New Year festival in China with her family).