Chinese youth embrace the Spring Festival in novel ways—with a nod to tradition
By Ji Jing  ·  2022-01-28  ·   Source: NO.5-6 FEBRUARY 3, 2022
Residents choose their Spring Festival decorations at a market in Yuping Dong Autonomous County, Guizhou Province, on January 23 (XINHUA)

Lai Xin, a college student in Jiangxi Province, now rarely visits relatives and friends with her parents during the Spring Festival. Instead, having glamorous shots taken at a studio has become one of her new ways to spend the most important festival of the year. She starts losing weight a month prior to the holiday so she can look better in the photos. Most of them feature a red background, as the color symbolizes good luck for the Chinese. She puts the framed photos by her bed for the coming year. Lai also has other special rituals for the festival, such as creating emojis of herself wearing red scarves or carrying red lanterns.

The Spring Festival fell on February 1 this year and, in addition to traditional ways of celebrating such as making dumplings, having family reunion dinners and visiting relatives and friends, many new celebratory ways are emerging. In a China Youth Daily (CYD) survey that polled 4,531 students from 217 universities across China, 90.3 percent of respondents replied it is necessary to celebrate the Spring Festival with a variety of rituals; and 65.33 percent said the ways of celebrating the festival have changed, with many fashionable ways to choose from.

The survey revealed that lighting smokeless sparklers, exchanging gifts with friends, hosting or attending parties, taking glitzy photos and going skating or skiing with family are chosen by young people as the most popular new activities for the Chinese New Year.

As the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 will open on February 4 during the Spring Festival holiday, watching the Games on TV is expected to be a part of this year's celebrations.

Zhang Wenqing, a student from Shandong Province who studies medicine at a university in Shanxi Province, told Beijing Review that as there are fewer gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she plans to watch the Games together with her parents as a way to celebrate the festival.

According to the aforementioned survey, 81.54 percent of respondents plan to watch the Winter Olympics during the holiday. Ge Guang, a graduate student from a university in Jilin Province, also has plans to watch the Games on TV. "I believe athletes from around the world can not only enjoy the Olympics but also have a glimpse of Chinese people's love for the Spring Festival and feel the atmosphere of the festival," he told CYD.

Tradition trumps time

However, no matter how the forms of celebration may change, the essence of the festival as an opportunity for reunion remains the same.

According to the survey, 34 percent of respondents said although some Spring Festival celebrations are different from the past, many traditional ones have remained; around 10 percent of respondents prefer new activities as they are trendier and more interesting, 38 percent prefer traditional ones as they are more classic, while 50 percent embrace both new and traditional ones.

What Ge wishes to do most during the festival is to reunite with his family. "Mom's cooking is always the best. Every year, my mother makes all kinds of dishes and Chinese-style beef pie is her signature dish. She makes that for the Spring Festival Eve reunion dinner." Ge said many of his relatives return home for the festival and younger people like him act as helpers when their parents are cooking.

According to the survey, the Spring Festival traditions young people value most include reunion dinners; putting up Spring Festival couplets—calligraphy bearing auspicious messages—on their doorways; receiving lucky money—gifts of cash presented in red envelopes; and cooking traditional foods such as dumplings. People also like setting off fireworks, visiting family and friends, and watching the Spring Festival Eve Gala broadcast live by China Central Television (CCTV).

Hu Miao, a graduate student from a university in Fujian Province, has a strong attachment to traditional activities. Every year during the festival, Hu's parents take him to visit relatives. He regards the process as important because he sees many of his relatives only once a year. "It's an important way to connect with people and I will visit my senior relatives myself after I get married and have my own family," Hu told CYD.

New and old ceremonies are not incompatible. Every year, Ge goes back to his hometown to present offerings to his ancestors, paste Spring Festival couplets and watch the CCTV gala with his parents. However, he also practices the new ways such as attending parties with his friends and shooting vlogs of said parties, which he then posts on social media platforms to preserve the memories.

In his eyes, as time goes on, the traditions are shifting and the new and old ones are constantly merging with one another. "The Internet era has given rise to new fads, yet traditional celebrations haven't been forgotten and are still embraced by young people. This identification with traditional culture demonstrates their confidence in Chinese culture, and new modes of celebration reflect the younger, more innovative interpretation of traditional culture," he said.

As there are still sporadic COVID-19 cases in cities such as Beijing, many local governments have encouraged residents to avoid travel and stay put during the festival to prevent a further spread of the virus.

Many cities have offered incentives to non-local workers who choose to stay put. For instance, in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, consumption vouchers, tickets to cultural and tourism attractions, and discounts for mobile phone bills will be given to non-native workers who choose to remain in the city for Spring Festival celebrations from January 31 to February 6.

Authorities will distribute 500-yuan ($78) vouchers to each non-native person, and cash coupons in traditional red envelopes, with denominations ranging from 5 yuan ($0.78) to 500 yuan, will be given out daily during the seven-day holiday. Each person will receive a red envelope once a day and it is estimated that 3 million people will be eligible to receive them.

For the second year in a row, Liu Yang, a 33-year-old from Shandong Province who works in a foreign company in Beijing, will heed government calls to remain in the city instead of returning home for the Spring Festival.

Although he won't be able to reunite with his parents, they have sent him home-cooked snacks like meatballs and steamed buns. "Although I can't see my parents, having the food is like meeting them in person. And I enjoy staying here with my cat," he told Beijing Review.

(Print Edition Title: A Modern Merger)

Copyedited by G. P. Wilson

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