Eyes on China ahead of the biggest human movement

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 00:00 |
Eyes on China ahead of the biggest human movement. Photo/Courtesy

Harriet James @harriet86jim

All eyes turn to China from today as they celebrate their Spring Festival, Chunjie or Lunar New Year. With it comes with the flair and pomp of such a unique celebration. 

Thousands of Chinese based in Kenya are flying back home in order to celebrate the 2020 Chinese New Year that falls on January 25.

Most of the Chinese have already left to be with their families for the New Year celebration which is billed as the largest annual human migration in the world.

The Chinese government estimates that around three billion trips by air, road, rail and ferries will be made by people traveling for the Lunar New Year holiday. 

A spot check at Nairobi’s Kilimani area, Kenya’s Chinatown indicates that the suburb which is usually teeming with Chinese workers and business people is largely deserted.

In China, the public holiday will last from January 24 to 30, during which the New Year’s Eve on January 24 and the New Year’s Day on January 25 are the peak time of celebration. The traditional family meal is the highlight of the spring festival.

Already China is bracing itself for the annual homecoming where millions head to their homes for the New Year dinner.

The traffic, called Spring Migration or chunyun, usually heads to the village, where parents to young urbanites and city dwellers live. 

Symbolic food selection

Consequently, travellers buy train tickets 60 days before to avoid the high fares and mad rush that sees people literally fight for tickets.

The country, however, seems to be prepared for this: they have new bullet-train lines that have drastically reduced travel time and factories are moving closer to the villages, meaning less time on road and lower fares.

Referred to as the Spring Festival because it commences at the beginning of spring, the event also marks the toughest time for single people, some of whom opt to hire fake boyfriends or girlfriends to satisfy their parent’s curiosity, since having children and passing down the family name is a pillar in Chinese culture.

After dinner, families, in most instances, sit together and watch the Spring Festival Gala, which is said to be one of the most watched TV shows in China. 

As with such celebrations, food takes a prominent place on the table. For the New Year, the food selection is symbolic, for instance, fish is a sign of increase in prosperity, Chinese dumplings are a symbol of great wealth and glutinous rice cake mean a higher income or position, wontons for wealth and treasure and spring rolls for wealth and fresh start.

These foods are eaten during the 16-day festive season, and particularly for the New Year’s Eve family reunion dinner.  The festival even has its own wine.

Like Christmas time in other countries, people in China too exchange gifts. The seniors present gifts to the young ones, from newborns to teens, usually money wrapped in red packets to dispel any evil spirits from harming the kids.

Legend has it that a monster known as Sui appeared on New Year’s eve with the intent of harming children. If Sui touched a child, he or she would develop fever and subsequently become an idiot, but if parents prayed, God would send guards in form of eight coins, which would be threaded in red strings and put under the child’s pillow. 

Over the years, notes replaced the coins and red envelopes replaced the strings. Now with technology, children receive digital red envelopes!

As with many huge celebrations, businesses come to a standstill in China to celebrate the New Year.

Public institutions and businesses take a seven-day holiday, but most tourist attractions, malls, hotels, public transport, and restaurants remain open.

Although it is one of the busiest times in the country, travel experts say it is also one of the best periods of the year to interact with the Chinese, and experience local culture. 

Firecrackers and fireworks are set off from the first minute of the New Year, meaning at midnight, billions of fireworks go up in China, the most anywhere at any time of year. 

 Traditional performances such as lion and dragon dances or even imperial performances like an emperors wedding take over streets, most of which are decorated with red lanterns place as early as a month before.

Red is the main colour of the festival and also a sign of luck. Since 2020 is the Year of the Rat, an animal that symbolises wealth and the beginning of a new day, it is more likely that decorations related to rats will be seen all across the streets. 

During this time, most people avoid using sharp objects such as knives and scissors or even breaking things. They also avoid hospitals or anything that can make them cry, eschewing unlucky words like sickness and death.  Additional reporting by Agencies

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