Everywhere you look holiday spirit is in the air, but this spirit is for a holiday that quickly passed and went. Although decorations, music, sales, and cheer abound for that most eternal of holidays, Christmas, there is less love in Ningbo for the Western New Years. Like most places in China, Ningbo doesn’t quite embrace New Years as do Westerners. The only New Year most Chinese are concerned about is Spring Festival. Many foreigners tend not to preoccupy themselves with this holiday, but this is slowly changing as they become more exposed to Chinese culture. Indeed, it is hard to escape in the traveling madness associated with Spring Festival.
Furthermore, all Ningbonese wish to avoid New Years Eve like the plague, nor do foreigners skip out on Spring Festival. As the city grows and becomes more intermixed and cultural understanding grows, more people have become willing to celebrate both New Years, no matter what their heritage.
Western New Year
The best thing about being in Ningbo for the New Year is the selection of things to do. Usually, foreigners tend to celebrate the New Year in the bars of Lao Waitan or at one of Ningbo’s nightclubs, which offer promotions, discounts, and special parties for the holiday.. Still, though, not all foreigners go out to clubs and bars. Some people go to private New Year’s parties or don’t go out at all.
Others tend to go a more unique route. A Russian exchange student named Olga, who has been studying for two years at Ningbo University, explained that her friends and her – students from many different countries – would gather and cook dishes from their respective countries. Furthermore, due to the different times of each country, the group would celebrate the New Year each hour depending on the countries there.
On the other hand, many Chinese in Ningbo have yet to embrace the New Year. Some chose not to celebrate it because they feel that since it is not a part of their traditional culture, it is unnecessary. One Chinese went as far to say that they did not want to celebrate it because they felt all Western holidays were mainly for promotions and selling things.
This does not mean that all Chinese in Ningbo choose not to celebrate. In fact, many of the locals who do celebrate on New Year’s Eve tend to have been born and raised in Ningbo, or just more open to Western tastes. The Chinese who are more inclined to go out with foreign and Chinese friends for the New Year partake in various activities. While going clubbing and out to eat and drink are some of these, one local I spoke with told me they sometimes would go to see a movie or just go out to hang out with friends.
In regards to Spring Festival, the story is completely different. The vast majority of Chinese in Ningbo celebrate the holiday as it is more familiar and, of course, because it is a national holiday. Ningbo becomes more of a ghost town during Spring Festival, with a mass exodus of Chinese returning home to be with family. Some foreigners, who are eager to take advantage of some much needed time off, partake in traveling as well.
Much like the people who feel that because Western New Year is not a Chinese tradition they should not celebrate it, there are ample amounts of foreigners who feel the same way about the Chinese New Year. This is not always the case, as Olga explained some Chinese workers she had made friends with invited her to join them for their Spring Festival dinner. Robert, a British teacher I spoke to, told me that in the three years he has lived here he has “never stayed in Ningbo for Chinese New Year”.
There are many problems with traveling out of the city or country for Spring Festival. While prices play a big role in this, it’s the crowds and unruliness that ensues when such large crowds form that causes the most issues. Olga explained it was these very crowds that deterred her from wanting to leave the city, preferring to remain home and relax. On the other hand, Robert had dealt with crowds on his numerous trips around the country and returning home from the UK one year. There was one year in particular when waiting in a taxi line at the airport that he even witnessed people trying to cut in line and even jump over barricades.
For Chinese locals and those living in Ningbo, travel is a must. Being with the entire family to ring in the Lunar New Year is the most important event of the year in China. A majority of the Chinese I spoke to, most of whom were not Ningbo natives explained that going home was a must. As for what happens during the celebrations, there are numerous dinners, all culminating with a large dinner on the eve of the new year with small gifts of money for children. Although considered the most important element of Chinese New Year, many people who have lived in Ningbo for many years have said the level of fireworks becomes less each year Randy said that “for the first Chinese New Year I stayed in China many years ago,” says Randy Williams, “the fireworks were just about 24 hours a day during the entire holiday” which made sleeping difficult. Today there are many newer regulations that say when fireworks can be used, and when you cannot. On Chinese New Year’s Eve at midnight, of course, the fireworks go ballistic.
While there is an obvious divide between the celebrations of these two New Years, this doesn’t mean that everyone avoids the holiday or doesn’t care. As the city grows and relations with foreigners and foreign countries put the Chinese of Ningbo more in touch with Western culture, some of them have become more interested and inclined to celebrate New Year’s. While expats here tend to travel more or do other things during the Spring Festival, there are those who celebrate the Chinese New Year in some way as well. As Ningbo becomes more of an international and globalized city, attitudes about these two New Years have slowly changed and will continue to change as they are celebrated by everyone more and more.