My first Chinese New Year was all about fireworks. I got drunk with my friends and walked around throwing cherry bombs and lighting roman candles. I was young and dumb and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Now I realize the importance of CNY. It is the biggest holiday in China and a time for Chinese to see their families, make dumplings, and pass out red envelopes full of money.
Like many things in China, this holiday is very difficult for outsiders to understand. However, the longer I have stayed and worked in China, the more I have fully grasped the importance of the holiday. To understand CNY and its relationship to Chinese culture is important for anyone wishing to understand or do business in China.
The following five points provide some good background information about CNY. While reading them will not replace actually experiencing it, it is a useful resource nonetheless.
Chinese New Year is the Chinese festival that celebrates the end of the start of a new Lunar year. That is why Chinese New Year and the western new year fall on different calendar dates in the Roman Catholic calendar. Chinese have up until recently followed the lunar calendar.
Chinese cities become ghost towns during this festival because many Chinese make the journey back to their ancestral homes. The word lao jia, Chinese for hometown, takes on a special meaning for this reason.
One of the most popular traditions during the Chinese New Year festival is to make jiaozi, Chinese for dumplings. If you are lucky enough to attend a Chinese friend’s party, then there will most certainly be plenty of jiaozi.
Traditionally Chinese businesses hand out yearly bonuses before the Chinese New Year. In this way, employees have a nice red envelope to present to their parents when they go home. This is usually between one to three months worth of wages.
Many ESL teachers and other foreigners new to China will not be included in this system. In a standard ESL package, teachers receive the equivalent of a cheap plane ticket back home, (around 6-7 thousand RMB). Of course, it is better to work within the Chinese system because you will earn much more.
Chinese New Year is a much needed cooling off period for those working in the middle kingdom. Often you will find that bosses and such will quarrel with one another the closer the holiday becomes. This is because it is the time when employees receive their annual performance reviews.
An old China hand once told me, “Just leave it for now. Everyone will be more chilled out after the New Year.” and he was right. My boss was fighting with her boss and I was somehow stuck in the middle of it all. In the end, the vacation and therapeutic nature of the festival cooled everyone down.