CNY in Shanghai

09 Feb 2009, Shanghai, China --- Night view of colorful lanterns at Chenghuang Temple Fair celebrating Lantern Festival during Chinese New Year. --- Image by © Keren Su/Corbis
09 Feb 2009, Shanghai, China — Night view of colorful lanterns at Chenghuang Temple Fair celebrating Lantern Festival during Chinese New Year. — Image by © Keren Su/Corbis

The Lowdown

The festival celebrations are all about bringing luck for the forthcoming year, everything must be in order and followed in accordance with traditions and superstitions. It’s a pretty hectic schedule! The first day of the New Year falls on the first day of the of the first lunar month, which will be February 8th this year. The peak of activity happens on New Year’s Eve, with a big family reunion dinner. The family then welcomes the New Year in with an orchestra of fireworks. The festivities will run for 15 days from New Year’s Day. On New Years Day, families offer food to shrines and temples welcoming the deities of Heaven and Earth before they head to visit neighbours and friends – this is also a time to honour and visit the eldest family relatives. The next big day after the Eve is 5th day, whereupon generally people will either stay at home to welcome The God of Wealth – however, you may also notice a lot of business re-open. Definitely don’t visit anyone else’s home on the 5th day, as it is said to bring you both bad luck! There is plenty of delicious new year food on offer around the city for you to tuck into. If you’re lucky enough to come across this dish, don’t pass the opportunity to try some Buddhas Delight! If you’ve got time, do read up on the daily events over the 15 days, it’s a lot to take in but super interesting.

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Monkey Business

2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey. If you or anyone you know was born in the years 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980 or 1992 then you’re a Monkey! The Monkey is the 9th of 12 animals that appear in the Chinese Zodiac “Shengxiao” which literally means birth likeness. A Monkey is said to be curious, mischievous, clever and charming. It is not uncommon for Chinese to plan pregnancies and births around particular years, in the hope that the traits associated with the Zodiac animal influence their child’s life, luck and success. If you are planning on having a baby this year, congratulations! We hear there is a baby boom this year in CN, so your future bambino will be part of a very special and memorable time.

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Be Savvy with your Travel Dates

If you’re planning on heading outside of Shanghai or further afield, you may want to give serious consideration to which days you travel. As with other East Coast employment hubs, Shanghai has a staggering population of workers who travel back to their respective home provinces for CNY, and you may observe that the City is quieter than usual. The train stations, on the other hand, are mental! We recommend you avoid planes, trains and automobiles around the 4th, 5th and 6th of February. In recent years, satellite heat maps have recorded images of movement in China, that can only be likened to the entire population of Europe waking up one morning and deciding to go on holiday. As such, the migration of people (dubbed ‘chun yun’ or ‘spring movement’) during this period has quite rightly acquired the title of “The Worlds Largest Human movement” by international commentators. If you would prefer to take advantage of the holiday and get away from the city, we recommend trying the mountains. Moganshan and Anji are both within 3-to-4 hour drives and offer breathtaking views. If you’re lucky enough you may even encounter snow. Most of the mountainsides are lush with bamboo forests and great places to take long peaceful walks. There are a host of cottage retreats available to rent, but book early as these locations are popular. If you really want to avoid Chinese new year, you will struggle in Asia as the festival is celebrated in most countries. You can, however, find great vacations just a short flight away from Pudong Airport, such as skiing in Niseko, Japan or hiring a Villa in Bali, Indonesia. Check out Flipkey rentals or Tripadvisor for deals.

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Hong Bao

Gifts are frequently offered, the most common being a Red Envelope (“Hong Bao”) that almost always contains money. The Hong Bao brings luck for the forthcoming year from an older relative to a younger relative. The Hong Bao is then kept under a pillow and slept on for seven nights before opening. A bonus is also generally offered to employees during CNY, which can also be in the form of a Hong Bao. And yes, your Ayi is absolute expecting a bonus. 🙂 Expats often become confused during this period as what to pay their Ayi’s, many tales are shared of bonus’s equating to a month’s salary. We’d say, go with what you’re comfortable with and don’t give in to any peer pressure. As with everything else in China, there is an ‘auspicious’ way to present Hong Bao to ensure the receiver is lucky in the forthcoming year, so pay attention to the numbers! The numbers should be even, odd numbers are offered at funerals. 8 and 6 are considered lucky numbers, but 4 is considered unlucky as “si” sounds like death! You can pick up red envelopes at most shops and these cost as little as 5 yuan for a pack of ten.

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Bang, Bang, Bang

Around 2pm on the Eve of CNY, a dull hum of what sounds like machine guns begins to drown out the sounds of cars and people. These are, of course, Chinese Firecrackers – and these will continue for days to come. For the foreigners in Shanghai, dodging the fireworks in one’s respective neighbourhood seems to be a source of conversation every year. Who can blame us, when the volume of fireworks is seriously unfathomable. As alluring as it may be to wander around and get some close up photos or videos, do be careful – it’s actually a tradition in the first 3 days of the festival to compete with each other by playing with Firecrackers and these are mostly being set off on street corners, outside shops and even in the road. Don’t be surprised if you catch 7 year-old boys enjoying the firecrackers either. If the air is clear, a great way to watch the fireworks is from one of the taller buildings. We recommend the rooftop bar at Flair at The Ritz Carlton, which can offer incredible views that extend for miles and miles across Shanghai. You will literally feel like you’re watching a sea of fireworks from space.

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Being a Tourist

The bit earlier about Shanghai emptying out and being quiet during CNY is mostly true. However, Shanghai is also an attractive city for outsiders to visit during their holidays. Don’t be surprised to see Chinese Tourists at the usual hotspots, and lots of them! Some expats like to take the opportunity to get in the thick of it and enjoy the busy crowds. The temples, The Bund, The Pearl Tower and Yuan Garden are popular locations and are usually heaving, shoulder to shoulder! If you manage to get to Yuan Garden, brace yourself for a crowd determining your route, rather than your will, as you will become immersed in a slow moving current of bodies. A lot of people will be dressed in brand new Red clothing – Red, to scare away bad luck and evil spirits and the New, to represent a new year. Most of the Chinese tourists visiting Shanghai will be from provinces further away where foreign faces are few and far between, so expect to find yourself appeasing the inquisitive country folk by posing in a few photos. We recommend taking a walk or riding your bike around the city on New Years Day and enjoy the quietness the city has to offer for a short period.

There is so much more, we could write a book, but this a great starting point for anyone in unfamiliar territories. It is such a great and exciting opportunity to be in China during this holiday. Whatever you’re planning on doing, get into the new year spirit and enjoy. Our last tip (which will score you points with your Chinese colleagues and neighbours) is to bid one and all “Xin Nian Kuai Le”…enjoy!

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