While most of us welcomed in the New Year in at the beginning of January, the Chinese follow the lunar calendar, so the end of January marked the beginning of the Year of the Rooster. Chinese New Year is also called Chunjie or Spring Festival. It is a huge holiday here where the city basically shuts down for a week +, so families can celebrate. This is the time when everyone goes back to their home towns to celebrate. It’s also a time for Temple Fairs and all the red decorations (red for good luck!).
What to Expect
Being that this was our first Chinese New Year (CNY), I didn’t know what to expect. I heard different perspectives from different people. Some people suggested leaving for the CNY because of how loud and crazy it would get. Other people said that is was so nice staying in town because of how quiet it got. Very different opinions! So what to do…
When you live in China, you need to immerse yourself in the culture. What better way then to celebrate Chinese New Year! We opted to stick around to experience the holiday firsthand, and I’m so glad that we did.
Lunar New Year’s Eve
Our housing complex invited us to celebrate the New Year by meeting out back in the garden for fireworks beginning at midnight. I thought that was when all the fireworks would go off (we heard that there would be fireworks everywhere). Yeah, people did not wait until midnight. The fireworks started going off early on in the evening and continued throughout the night. It was quite the experience! I was worried about how our dogs would do, but they handled it all just fine.
There were fireworks going off in-between buildings. People set them off whenever (and it seemed like) wherever they wanted. Apparently this year though, you leave the downtown area of the city to purchase fireworks-that were also super expensive as they try to cut back on the number of fireworks being set off.
The price increase and the difficulty to purchase fireworks, certainly didn’t stop people. We were told to expect fireworks anytime (day or night) from January 27 to February 1. It was true. We watched fireworks (some that just went in the air and made a loud pop sound with a flash) being set off right on the sidewalk.
Since we didn’t get to see any fireworks on our New Year’s Eve, this certainly made up for it! I enjoyed watching them all from the comforts of our home.
Just from some of my own research, I learned that this holiday is all about the luck! To start the New Year, people will get a haircut and dress in new clothes from head to toe. They don’t like to shower or clean up within the first couple days of the New Year because they don’t want wash away the good luck. This is also a time to wear red-like red underwear-for good luck! Red envelopes are also passed out (usually to the kids) with money in it. People also give these to their Ayis (housekeepers) in which there is usually one month’s salary.
Where is everyone?
The city cleared out once CNY began. I’ve never seen it so quiet here. Most businesses (with the exception of some of the Western stores and restaurants) shut down for a few days at least. It was great riding the subway with it being so empty. It was also so easy to walk around and cross the streets easily. Most of the people from Beijing left to go to their home towns to celebrate with their families.
Most left but you still could find A TON of people at the Temple Fairs. The Temple Fairs were originally around temples, so people could go there and pray for the New Year. There are lots of temple fairs around but some no longer have a temple there or have one but it is no longer a practicing temple. In Beijing, the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) is the only active temple in downtown, so a lot of people go there to pray for the whole year.
During the Temple Fairs, vendors have specialities from their hometowns and traditional snacks. There are also folk performances, games, and more!
Ben and I got to experience four (yes, 4!) different temple fairs this year. It was quite the weekend!
Chaoyang Park Temple Fair
We went to Chaoyang Park first since it’s within walking distance for us. We entered on the West side but needed to head to the South gate where the fair was. This one reminded me of a carnival. At the south side of Chaoyang Park, there is an amusement park there, so there were lots of rides happening. There were also tons of games. Just like at carnivals, there was also all sorts of food. This temple fair had two different sections-one being more like a carnival and the one being a snowy area where they had snow activities like tubing and even a camel to ride.
Ditan Park Temple Fair
The next day we went to Ditan Park which is supposedly the most popular one in the city. It certainly was popular! We found this one to be even more crowded than Chaoyang Park. We took the subway to the Lama Temple (the only practicing temple currently in the city) and found the park from there. I love seeing all the red lanterns and red decorations throughout the city. This Temple Fair was cool because they had performers. Here we got to see people performing pieces from Chinese operas-which all have specific stories to them. We also got to see my favorite part of the fair-the lion dance. I’m so glad we didn’t miss that one!
Tianjin Temple Fair
The next Temple Fair we visited was neat because we took the bullet train to the nearby port town of Tianjin.
We were warned in advance that this would be even more crowded than any fair in Beijing–and it was.
This was our first time taking the train and it was such a nice experience! First, it was super easy getting to the train station. We took the metro to the train station and quickly and easily made our way onto the train. The train was very nice inside too. It only took us about 35/40 minutes to get from Beijing to Tianjin (which is over 2 hours by car).
I would definitely come back for another visit, especially with such affordable tickets! It was only about $40 USD for our roundtrip, first class tickets. Definitely spend the extra $5 or so to upgrade! There are two big, comfy seats together compared to the three smaller seats in the other section.
Once we got off the train, we headed to the Temple Fair. There was a temple right in the center of the square. Before we got to the temple though, I shopped along the way. Prices are even better in Tianjin than Beijing. I ended up getting a red paper cutout of a rooster, a picture of birds using an embroidery technique, and a flower picture using wood. I also got some inside glass paintings that I’ve been eyeing. (The use a tiny paint brush to paint pictures inside glass pieces.)
As I continued on with my shopping, I had to pass by some shops that were just too crowded. Walking around the fair was like when you drive and all of a sudden there is a traffic jam (and then just like that is disperses for a moment). If you don’t like crowds, this is definitely not for you. At some points, I just couldn’t move. I was at the mercy of the crowd and hoped no one would panic. I enjoyed the shopping there but would prefer to not have the crowds.
After the Temple Fair, we walked to the Italian Quarter where we had lunch at a German restaurant. It was a cute area with more shops (all with the same stuff it seemed).
Check out the video Ben made from our day trip to Tianjin!
Taoranting & Changdian Temple Fair
The last Temple Fair we went to I found on a list I looked up online about Temple Fairs in Beijing. I wanted to check out this fair because it was listed number 1. The website listed which subway stop to follow, so we took it-it was located south of Tiananmen. We followed the directions and ended up on a cute little street with shops and red lanterns. There was someone performing (making rooster sounds :)) on the stage. This was such a cute (and pretty quiet) area that I’d like to come back to explore more one day. After we finished walking around, I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t find the fair (surely what we saw couldn’t be it).
So I looked up some more information to find out that this fair is split into two different sections-the one with the shops where we were was the free section and the main fair was about a 30 minute walk away at the Taoranting Park (2 kuai entrance). I still don’t know why the website didn’t list taking the Taoranting metro stop instead as that would have saved us a long walk–but then again, we probably wouldn’t have found that cute Changdian area! Anyways, we made it to our last Temple Fair!
Along the walk, we saw some setting off fireworks from the sidewalk. We also saw a rickshaw roll completely over (I guess he hit the curb wrong). That makes me unsure about getting in ones of those in the future! The guy was ok after a bunch of people helped to lift the rickshaw back up.
We finally entered in the fair but we didn’t stay long. It was sooo crowded! I was hoping to see more performances (and perhaps if we fought the crowd we could), but we had seen enough fairs already and dealt with the crowds enough, that we opted to head home instead.
As the fairs continued on, they each seemed to get busier and busier. Maybe it’s because the celebrations continued on? Not sure, but we had enough by the fourth one! They were all definitely memorable and quite the cultural experience.
The fifth day of the New Year calls for more fireworks, so we got to see (and hear) them once again. They weren’t as spectacular as that first night though, but I do always enjoy seeing them.
While the city is slowly starting to pick up again, there are still markets and shops that are closed (and will be as the holiday continues). It is certainly still quieter than normal. This is a huge holiday, so many people take full advantage as the celebrations continue for days–and can last for approximately 15 days!
TOTE: Take advantage of the cultural experiences when you can!