Beijing – The Lunar New Year is the most important Chinese holiday when families gather to eat, relax and set off fireworks in celebration of ancient traditions and new beginnings.
In the days surrounding the holiday, the world’s largest annual human migration sees hundreds of millions of people travel to their hometowns.
Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year due to the Chinese lunar calendar. This year, the Year of the Earth Pig starts on February 5.
On New Year’s Eve, families gather for festive feasts and games of mahjong and poker. Young people receive good luck gifts of red envelopes filled with money. A modern twist also sees virtual red envelopes exchanged among family members and friends via the messaging app WeChat.
Families spend the evening watching the celebrity-laden marathon television program Spring Festival Gala, which has lost some of its shine in recent years due to decreased viewership.
Lunar New Year celebrations are supposed to be loud, which means fireworks can be heard exploding at all hours of the night and day. Red envelopes and fireworks are meant to scare off "guonian," the monster of the previous 12 months, and usher in a lucky new year.
For the past two years, however, fireworks have been banned in some of the biggest centres including Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.
The dishes served at the Chinese New Year vary according to the region. Northern Chinese families prepare dumplings, while people near Shanghai make sure they eat as many types of meat as possible to attract wealth in the new year.
Families decorate their doors with red paper cut-outs of the word for luck, "fu," as well as images of fish, bats and the animal assigned to the new year – in this case, the pig. The side of doors are adorned with couplets of blessings.
Those who share the zodiac sign of the new year can expect a year full of challenges, so they need to always wear something red, such as a bracelet, for protection.
On the second and third days of the new year, families visit relatives. Discussions often focus on young people, who talk about their work, housing and relationship status. A recent trend, however, has seen increasing numbers of urban youth travel abroad instead of returning home.