Celebrating The New Year In China


New Year’s Eve is just around the corner and cities all over the world will be hosting festive events to mark the occasion, such as the iconic dropping of the Times Ball in New York’s Times Square, the spectacular fireworks show over Sydney Harbor in Australia and spellbinding pyrotechnics show on and above Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai. While China celebrates December 31 as well with huge fireworks shows and traditional bell ringing festivals, the country also observes the Chinese New Year a few weeks later.

Dancing Dragon (credit: Randy Yagi)

Also known as the Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year, the Chinese New Year is the most important holiday of the year in China, with a history dating back more than 4,000 years. But unlike New York, Sydney, Dubai and many other cities all over the world, the festivities are not just held on the eve and the day of the New Year. Instead, it’s a public holiday celebrated across 15 days, marked by reunion dinners with traditional food and the observance of traditional cultural activities like fireworks, the exchanging of gifts and elaborate dragon dances to frighten away evil spirits and bring good luck, then culminating with the enchanting Lantern Festival on the fifteenth and final day.

Because the date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the next Lunar New Year will be Saturday, January 28, 2017 and according to the Chinese Zodiac, is the first day of the  Year of the Rooster. The lunar year begins on the 23rd day of the 12 lunar month of the Chinese calendar and the festival actually lasts about 23 days but ends on the 15th day of the first lunar month.

Confucius Temple Qinhuai Scenic Area (credit: Randy Yagi)

While New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year celebrations are held throughout China, particularly in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai and autonomous regions like Hong Kong and Macau, some of most famous events on are held in the country’s other prominent cities, including Nanjing, the ancient capital and capital of the Jiangsu province and Suzhou, the second largest city in the southern edge of Jiangsu, just west of Shanghai.

A traditional Buddhist custom, the ringing of the bell 108 times heralds the end of the old year on December 31 and welcomes the New Year with hopes of good health and prosperity. The number 108 is considered sacred in Buddhism and other Dharmic religions like Hinduism and Sikhism and is said to represent the number of negative emotions that are cast out with the bell ringing.

Confucius Temple, Nanjing (credit: Randy Yagi)

One of the most fascinating places in Nanjing to take part in the New Year’s Eve festivities is at the Jiangnan Examination Hall, completed in 1168 and now serving as a museum, where visitors can ring a bell for good luck and hang a wish card for health and prosperity in the New Year. Nanjing is also the home to the famous Qinhuai International Lantern Festival, the largest of its kind in China, drawing several million residents and visitors. Held at the city’s popular Confucius Temple Scenic Area, the festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations and has a history in the city that dates back to the Southern Dynasties, when families would gather together to celebrate to pray for a happy family, world peace and good weather for a bountiful harvest. The enormous festival is highlighted by traditional foods like tangyuan (glutinous rice ball with fillings), live music and thousands of red lanterns, many of which contain puzzles for people to solve.

Bell Ringing at Hanshan-Temple in Suzhou, China.jpg
Bell Ringing Festival, Suzhou

In Suzhou, one of China’s oldest and largest bell ringing events on December 31 takes place at the Hanshan Temple Bell Ringing Festival. Held at the namesake 1,400 year-old Buddhist temple with its two giant bells from the late Qing Dynasty, the festival draws thousands of people from all over China and all over the world. At midnight, the giant bells of the temple are rung by Buddhist monks 108 times and according to legend, everyone in attendance who listens to each of the bell tolls will receive good luck and happiness in the New Year. Prior to the historic bell ringing festival, Suzhou will host a number of New Year’s Eve events, including temple fairs with streets lined with red dragon lanterns, parades with lion dancers and performers on stilts and entertaining fireworks shows. The upcoming bell ringing festival on New Year’s Eve and the Chinese New Year celebrations are expected to draw even larger crowds as the City of Suzhou was recently named one of world’s Top 50 Places to Visit in 2017 by Travel+Leisure, one of the world’s leading authorities on travel.