The Chinese New Year dinner also referred to as the "Reunion Dinner", called tuan nien fan or nian ye fan in Chinese, is perhaps the most loved aspect of the Spring Festival. It takes place on Chinese New Year's Eve (February 9th in 2024).
The Significance of the Reunion Dinner
If one were to choose only one day of the two-week-long Chinese New Year festival to go home to visit family, this would be it. The daytime before the reunion dinner (and immediately preceding days if the journey home is longer) see the most crowded roads, bus stations, train stations, and airports of the whole year, as everyone anxiously makes the journey to go home and be with their loved ones.
The dinner is believed to be the most important part of the festival and the most important meal of the year. Big families of several generations sit around round tables and enjoy the food and time together.
For people who work or study outside, the Chinese New Year reunion dinner is the best time to see their parents or grandparents. The reunion dinner gives elders the opportunity to catch up on how their children and grandchildren are doing.
Reunion Dinner Food and Drinks
The Spring Festival Reunion Dinner typically has enough food on the table to feed a whole village! It is common to see plates on top of plates of food.
There are many symbolic "lucky" dishes that most families will prepare, but the one food that is undoubtedly the most common is 'Jiaozi', or dumpling which means wealth. Families often like to prepare the dough and fillings for dumplings together before the New Year's feast.
Fish is another must-have dish for the reunion dinner for its auspicious meaning. In Chinese, "fish" (鱼 Yú /yoo/) sounds like 'surplus' and symbolizes abundance.
Check out some other traditional Chinese New Year lucky foods!
Drinking is also quite an integral part of the dinner, and even those who normally do not consume alcohol will join in on the fun! Bottles of Baijiu (Chinese rice wine) and other alcoholic spirits are likely to be drunk by the whole family.
The dinner also takes place over a long period of time, commonly starting as early as 17:00 - 17:30 (before sunset), and lasting all the way through midnight.
Reunion Dinner Activities
Besides the feast itself, the evening is filled with various exciting activities for the whole family.
The most anticipated TV broadcast of the year; CCTV's New Year Gala show, takes place at the same time (8pm - midnight), and will almost surely be watched by almost the whole country throughout the evening.
These hours are also the most common time for 'Red Envelope' of lucky money to be exchanged (both physically or electronically).
When the clock approaches midnight, the family would normally go outside to witness the spectacular display of fireworks and firecrackers that takes place. Many families will likely buy fireworks sets of their own to light up the sky and join in. The amazing scene can last for up to an hour in many rural areas and leaves the roads and ground completely covered with the red paper remains of the firecrackers, and with a heavy red-tinted layer of smoke covering the skies. It truly is a mesmerizing sight!
Midnight is also the time when the New Year bell is rung. Many areas, such as temples or large squares, may have bells, that are traditionally rung to mark the New Year's beginning. Some families may even choose to make a trip up to a mountain temple specifically to hear the bell rung, as it is believed to bring good fortune.
Where Do Chinese New Year Reunion Dinners Take Place?
Many people's parents, grandparents, or other extended-family relatives live in rural areas, usually in the outskirts of the big cities where the younger generations work or study, so it is customary for people to make the journey back to their laojia ('old home', i.e. hometown).
The reunion dinner will therefore most probably take place at the home of the parents/grandparents, and most commonly; the parents of the husband's side of the family for married couples, but this is not set in stone.
Nowadays, as many people (and their extended families) have left the countryside for good, many Chinese New Year celebrations may also take place in the big cities. In these cases, as preparing a meal at home may seem troublesome, families will instead choose to go dine at posh luxurious restaurants (if they are still open). Find out more about how Chinese New Year traditions have changed through the years.