Chinese New Year in Beijing

The first week in the year of the dragon has already passed. The new year was greeted with a lot, a whole lot of fireworks. For the Chinese the first week of the new year is an opportunity to visit family and friends and also the famous temple fairs, which are present all around Beijing.

The festivities for the new
The celebrations for the lunar new year in China last two weeks. Each day during this period, at least in traditional families, has its own meaning:

  • New years eve: The family gets together for dinner.
  • New years day:Even before midnight, fireworks is lit to chase away the evil spirits from the old year. On New Year’s day, the older members of the families are visited.
  • Day 2: The daughters visit their families and friends. Sacrifices are brought to the god of good fortune.
  • Day 3: The families stay at home due to increased risk of getting into a fight.
  • Day 4: The gods are welcomed in the house with candles and incense which are lit.
  • Day 5: The shops open again and taboos, such as cutting hair, may be broken. Firework is lit to get the attention of the god of fortune.
  • Day 6: To chase away the god of poverty old clothes and rubbish are disposed.
  • Day 7: Noodles symbolize a long life and thus are eaten on this day.
  • Day 8: On the day of the millet, the kids are shown where all the food comes from by taking them to the landscape.
  • Day 9: On the birthday of the Jade Emperor fireworks is lit again.
  • Day 10: It is the birthday of the god of stone, which is why no rocks are allowed to be moved. Candles and incense are lit in his honor.
  • Day 11: The fathers-in-law invite the sons-in-law to eat the remains of the Jade Emperor feast.
  • Day 12: Preparation of the lanterns for the lantern festival.
  • Day 13: The lanterns are exposed and in the North of China marriage is forbidden on this day.
  • Day 14: Begin of the lantern festival.
  • Day 15: Lion and dragon dances in the morning for the lantern festival and lighting of the lanterns in the evening.

Many wishes for the year of the dragon

Many wishes for the year of the dragon

During the first week of the new year temple fairs are organized in most of the parks and temples around the capital. The temple fairs are not much different to the fairs one is familiar with in the Western world. During the first week of the new year, we visited three of the fairs: the international fair in the Chaoyang Park, the fair in the Taoranting Park and finally the one in the Dongyue Temple Complex.
More wishes for the new year

More wishes for the new year

Unfortunately we were a bit disappointed by the international fair in the Chaoyang Park. The park itself is magnificent and offered really good surroundings, but there was very little distinguishing this market from any other we know from home. No surprise if you consider that it is an international market. Nevertheless the red lanterns, which hung on the trees, and the some other smaller hints indicated that we were still in China, such as the food which was offered in small stalls all over the fair. Many stalls also sold international food, which was not exactly what we had been looking for.
Enjoying Taoranting Park in southern Beijing

Enjoying Taoranting Park in southern Beijing

The fair in Taoranting Park was much more Chinese in character. Since it was also quite a distance away from Chaoyang, the part of the city where most of the foreigners live, not many of those were to be seen there. The Chinese enjoyed shooting with guns and balls for prices and eating the food from the many stalls. Another particularity was the frozen lake in the middle of the park, where one could rent something that looked like an ice bicycle and chairs which were fitted with blades and moved forward with iron sticks. The big attraction however was the large snow ramp one could sledge down on truck tubes. Though it was cold enough for snow, the dry climate made it necessary that the snow was created artificially.
Finally we visited the Dongyue Temple in the south of Chaoyang. This was a real temple fair, since all the stalls where located in the different court yards of the temple complex. It was impressive to see how many people had bought the little signs for good luck for the coming year and hung them up on the rails and trees of the temple.
Fireworks between the tall buildings of  Beijing

Fireworks between the tall buildings of Beijing

The most impressive experience were the fireworks around midnight on new year’s eve. We are all too familiar with the people firing off fireworks way too early. China is not any different in that respect. However China is very different in the respect that there is no official fireworks in Beijing (or at least we were not aware of one), but the people got rid of their bad spirits from last year all by themselves. Typically the did that by either setting a rope of firecrackers off in the middle of the street or by lighting up fireworks in a box. Depending on the size of the box, the firework was bigger and lasted longer. But all of it was lit in the streets between the high-rises. Just by listening to the fireworks during the week, one could imagine being in a war with street fights going on all around the buildings. It remotely reminded me of the tour I had in Sarajevo. On new year’s day however we were really surprised when firecrackers exploded right in front of our window. The fireworks decorated the whole horizon which is visible from our apartment.
Fireworks directly in front of our balcony (the photographer survived)

Fireworks directly in front of our balcony (the photographer survived)

During the whole week we kept hearing fire crackers, but it became less and less until the Chinese asked for the attention of the god of fortune, which of course they did using fireworks.