The Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival or Chun Jie, is the biggest holiday of the year in Beijing. It is a prime time to visit and experience the local culture. The former capital of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties (1271–1911) has hundreds of years of traditions and ceremonies associated with making an auspicious year. Beijingers have a Chinese New Year's Eve meal and customs and perform temple ceremonies, and now they also celebrate at the Great Wall, at bars, and at special modern entertainment festivals. Here is what Beijingers do for the festival, travel information, and places where you can celebrate Chinese New Year too.
Most Beijing residents will try to be home on Chinese New Year's Eve. They especially want to make the traditional New Year's Eve family dinner. Maybe you'll get a chance to be an honored guest for the celebration.
On that day, people clean the house and don their finest outfits in the spirit of the New Year. People put up red decorations and even don red cloths. The red decorations express wishes for good fortune, prosperity, and well being in the coming year. Red clothes not only signify power, happiness, and vitality, it also is said to scare away the ghosts.
People often paste red couplets that are slogans or poems and pictures of door gods (to guard their doors from evil spirits), and they hang red lanterns in their houses. In North China, it is also customary to paste paper cuts in the shapes of animals and plants on windows. Each kind of animal or plant signifies a special wish.
On the evening of New Year's Eve, families tune in to watch the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV. With over 700 million viewers yearly, it boasts the largest audience of any TV show in the world. The best musicians, dancers, and acrobats perform on stage.
After the dinner feast, people go out to play with fireworks and watch the fireworks display over the capital that is unmatched by any western celebration. Not only the government, but millions of residents join in as well by exploding many, many millions of firecrackers, rockets, and sparklers. It's amazing, and amazingly loud and smoky around 12 midnight. The noise is thought to scare away evil spirits as well. You'll probably experience no other fireworks display like it on earth!
After the fireworks, it is traditional in Beijing and other northern cities to eat dumplings, called jiaozi, to signify prosperity.
As the week goes on, Chinese people visit relatives and friends, starting with the closest and moving on to more distant relatives and friends. It is customary to bring gifts in the form of food, sweets, alcohol, or hong bao (red envelopes with money).
Meanwhile, both young and old continue to explode their fireworks and light rockets. These will continue to explode over the buildings for the 15 days of the Spring Festival. People also go out to the temple fairs. They are places to go to taste the local flavor in the way of food, art, music, games, & people.
Temple fairs were originally related to the religious activities of temples, organized at the festivals of temples on certain fixed dates, along with some commercial activities. Gradually temple fairs have mainly become shopping markets and entertainment events for common people, and religious activities have become less important.
Temple fairs in Beijing have a long history, and the origin can be traced back to the Liao Dynasty (907 – 1125). The fairs are held at various ancient temples during festivals, so they are called "temple fairs." Here are four temple fairs you could go to.
Characterized by folk culture activities such as folk skills, collections and flower shows, the temple fairs reproduce the traditional customs of Beijing. Many Beijingers worship a local deity or their ancestors and also enjoy the entertainment, including many kinds of Chinese folk art (music, dance, theater, acrobatics, art, crafts, etc.).
For foreigners, visiting a temple fair is definitely a cultural experience. You may enjoy the reenactment of the ceremony of worship to Earth and Heaven. Folk performances like dragon dances and lion dances, the demonstration of traditional arts and crafts, and fun games are all part and parcel of temple fairs. You can also taste numerous Chinese New Year foods such as snacks, gourmet court dishes and delicacies.
Located just south of Tian’anmen Square, Changdian Temple Fair is one of the eminent fairs in the city. It's got the essential mix of food, vendors, and performances to give you the authentic fair experience. Here you'll find all kinds of stands selling art, calligraphy, tea, and other goods, while food vendors push carts through the crowds selling numerous local favorites.
The Ditan Temple Fair is one of the most popular and long-standing fairs in Beijing. About one million people visit it each year during the Spring Festival. There are reenactments of worship ceremonies of the Qing Dynasty (1636 – 1911) to the god of earth. Besides the ceremonies, there are a wide range of folk performances and activities such as puppet shows, traditional art exhibitions, dragon and lion dances, and acrobatic shows.
Reenactment of the Qing-Style Sacred Ceremony
The scared ceremony is a unique performance at the fair. It aims to replicate the proceedings carried out in the Qing Dynasty to pray for peace and prosperity of the nation. The performance happens at 10 a.m. daily during the fair.
This year the audience can participate in performances on the first to fifth days of the year of goat (February 19 - 23). Two visitors will be randomly chosen on a daily basis to take up the role of the emperor presiding over officials performing the sacred rituals.
It is said that of all the temple fairs in Beijing, the temple fair at the Temple of Earth has the best snacks. Every year numerous vendors will sell more than a hundred types of Chinese snacks, especially Beijing local snacks. Some of China’s most-honored brands can be found there.
Folk Culture Presentations
There will be groups of both local and regional artists at the fair, putting on carefully rehearsed performances.
Traditional wood carvings, incense sachets, silk embroidery works, and other handcraft articles can be found in the Chinese handcrafts section. There will be live handcraft during the fair. The audience can observe the meticulous procedure of creating an elegant art piece.
Dongyue Temple Fair had started as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206 – 1368). The culture of "Fu" has been the essence of this fair. Many activities are centered on the "Fu" culture. Visitors can pray for good fortune at the altar, walk on the "Fu" road, or hang a "Fu" card to invite "Fu" for the coming year. Colorful folk performances, artwork displays, and snacks are also available.
At Wuxiancaishen Temple Fair, five brothers are deified as gods of wealth for their success hunting and prosperity.
Baiyun Temple Fair has an enduring popularity with locals who come here to throw coins at a stone monkey and a bell to invoke a blessing.
Want to experience a more subdued, authentic temple experience? Escape the crowds in the city center and take a bus out to Hongluo Temple in Huairou district. Take part in prayer meetings and connect with Buddhist culture, or enjoy the dance troupes and traditional snacks in the scenic temple courtyard.
Dragon Spring Temple Fair at Fenghuang Mountain has a series of activities including blessings for fortune and health, the Dragon Spring Temple meetings, vegetarian food, and Ping'an noodles. The entertainment activities of the temple fair are also combined with the folk customs of Fenghuang Mountain, including flower shows with a local flavor.
Old Summer Palace Temple Fair has a long history. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, especially during the flourishing reign of Emperor Qianlong (1735–96), apart from granting banquets and rewards to the dukes and ministers by the emperor, various kinds of celebratory activities would also be held in the palace, such as light operas, wrestling, equestrianism, acrobatics and fire performances.
With the theme of "experiencing royal life" and on the basis of traditional temple fairs, it is a distinctive temple fair in Beijing. Displaying the unique culture of the royal family and Manchu people, there are decorations of palace lanterns, dragon columns and dragon flags.
Lotus Pond Temple Fair officially launches activities from the second day of the first month of the lunar calendar. On the early morning of that day, the majority of the people who go to Mammon Temple to pray are on bikes, except for the tycoons and high officials. They wear silk cotton-padded gowns, with mandarin jackets or sleeveless jackets on the outside and small felt hats on their heads.
The pilgrims start from the Gate of Pervasive Peace inside the city to the south. They travel in the direction of the wind (because a north-westerly wind mostly blows in winter in Beijing), but they have to head against the wind once they have passed the Gate of Pervasive Peace.
At around one mile away from Mammon Temple, booths selling incense, red candles and joss papers are ubiquitous on the roadside. The first thing to do after stepping into the temple is to worship Mammon. With incense smoke and lit candles all around, a melodious bell also peals out in the temple.
Beijing people do more than celebrate at temple fairs, there are also athletic competitions and winter fairs.
The Longtan fair is one of the most popular of its kind in Beijing. It is mainly a sporting event with crowd participation. It doesn't take place in or around a temple. It is held in a park. There are athletic competitions and demonstrations to both watch and take part in. Martial arts champions demonstrate their skills, and crowd members are encouraged to take part in various competitions such as table tennis, diabolo (Chinese Yoyo) spinning, arm-wrestling, chess, and rock-climbing. Snacks abound.
Dance routines, ice football, operas, and other events will recreate the feel of the late Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). In the 1800s, the old Summer Palace was a particularly busy Spring Festival venue.
This fair puts an international spin on things with flavors from around the world. Go to see international bands, dance troupes, customs, cuisine, and more. This festival is particularly popular with the Western crowd, as there is sure to be a reminder of home.
The Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival is about 50 miles outside central Beijing. It is usually open from the middle of January until the end of February. There are ice sculptures like those in Harbin.
It’s a great day/overnight trip, especially if you can’t make it out to Harbin Ice and Snow World.
For the true Chunjie experience, visit Houhai Lake, in the center of the city. While other nightlife areas have been built up and modernized, Houhai has kept its traditional charm and beauty. Stop into one of the plethora of bars along the lake and celebrate in local style.
For a truly spectacular view of the fireworks that will be lighting up the Beijing sky on the eve of Chinese New Year (18th February) visit YUN Bar and Lounge atop the Peninsula Beijing. Usually only open during the summer months, this rooftop bar opens specially for the New Year celebrations and offers a wide range of drinks (starting at 58 yuan) to accompany panoramic views of the Beijing skyline. Reservations are recommended.
Other popular bars include Huxley's, Azucar, Zoom, Drum & Bell, but it’s also fun to just wander through the area and choose a bar on impulse.
The most famous bar district is packed full of parties and deals for New Years Eve. This writer recommends visiting The Local, located just off Sanlitun South Street.
Why not celebrate atop China's own world wonder? The Brickyard, at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, offers the total package. Book one of their luxury rooms for the night, and leave the rest to them.
You can hike the wall during the day and then warm up with a traditional hotpot dinner, which is said to bring good luck. They also have a dumpling-making workshop preceding a massive fireworks show (on top of the great wall, of course) and celebratory dumplings.
Have fun, and Xin Nian kuaile! (‘Happy New Year!’)