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Chinese New Year Dinner

The Chinese New Year dinner also referred to as the "Reunion Dinner", is perhaps the most loved aspect of the Spring Festival. It takes place on Chinese New Year's Eve (January 24 in 2020).

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 day time 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.

Reunion Dinner Family Time

Chinese New Year Eve dinnerA Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

As one of the Chinese New Year's main purposes is to start the new year on a good note, there is no better way to do that than to be with family and have a big feast, making the Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner the most crucial time to be home.

Of course, all over the world holidays are supposed to be celebrated with families, but China in particular places an enormous emphasis on this idea, and it would be very uncommon for Chinese people to go travel, for example, instead of seeing their parents or grandparents in the new year (if people do travel, it may commonly be after the reunion dinner).

Of course, the reunion dinner gives elders the opportunity to catch up on how their children and grandchildren are doing, and younger generations are expected to have to answer a swarm of questions throughout the evening, such as "when are you getting married?", "when are you buying a house?", "how much are you earning now?", and "when will you have children?". This has become a notoriously tiring aspect of the otherwise wonderful occasion.

Reunion Dinner Food and Drinks

chinese new year lantern festival traditional food tangyuanChinese New Year food like dumplings are often hand-made as a family activity before the reunion dinner.

The Spring Festival Reunion Dinner will typically have enough food on the table to feed a whole village! As with almost any Chinese meal, excess food is a customary necessity. It is common to see plates on top of plates of food.

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.

There are many symbolic "lucky" dishes that most families will prepare, but the one food that is undoubtedly the most common, is 'Jiaozi', or dumplings. Families often like to prepare the dough and fillings for dumplings together before the New Year's feast. 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! Expensive bottles of Baijiu (Chinese rice wine) and other alcoholic spirits are likely to be drank by the whole family. 

Reunion Dinner Activities

Chinese New Year fireworks displayChinese New Year fireworks and firecrackers in China are the biggest pyrotechnic phenomenon on earth!

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 Packets' of lucky money to be exchanged (both physically or electronically).

When the clock approaches midnight, after everyone has been well-fed and drunk, that's when the real fun and festivity begins. The family would normally go outside to witness the spectacular display of fireworks and firecrackers that takes place. Many families will likely buy firework 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.

Depending on the health or condition of the elder family members, the reunion dinner may last until the early hours of the morning. Even if some members retire to sleep, there are likely to still be a few people staying up, talking and drinking. 

Where Do Chinese New Year Reunion Dinners Take Place?

Cuandixia Village AlleyCuandixia is one of the top ancient villages around Beijing, where traditions of Chinese New Year are particularly well preserved.

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. 

Typically, any relatives who live close enough to the region, will come gather here. In many parts of the country, many elder family members may already reside somewhat close to the grandparents, or even be immediate neighbors, as Chinese tradition strongly emphasizes the honorary duty that is for sons and daughters to care for their parents at old age. 

As the homes of many of these elder parents and grandparents may be in old under-developed villages, the sizes of the dining room/living room may be small.

This, however, does not stop the family from gathering as many people as possible, sometimes adding up to 20 or 30 people in one room. During the meal, it is not uncommon for many of the family members (especially women) to stand beside the elder members who are seated.

In many such homes in Northern regions, the dining/living room has a big 'Kang', which is a traditional large platform made of wood or bricks (sometimes heated with coal underneath), and can seat several people, sometimes even up to ten. The 'Kang' serves as a bed, resting area, and dining area, and is an especially comfortable seating place in the cold winters up north. If the Chinese New Year is celebrated in a home with a Kang, the reunion dinner (and the rest of the time) will almost surely take place on it.

As urbanization is sweeping across China at an astounding pace, and with older generations slowly being replaced by the younger ones, there is a trend that is quickly changing this tradition. 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.

Experience Chinese New Year with China Highlights

Chinese new year reunion dinnerChinese New Year reunion dinner

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