An unusual Chinese New Year

Only 3 more days until our holidays start and 4 days until the Lunar New Year begins! This will be the second Chinese New Year we spend in times of covid. Last year, we were cooped up at home due to something which, at that time, we didn’t know much about. Fast forward 12 months and now covid-19 is an integral part of our lives everywhere in the planet…

There are not many cases in China currently. There were outbreaks in several cities a few weeks ago, but the size of these outbreaks, if we compare them with the situation in Europe or other countries… is minuscule. These days there are, at most, around 100 new confirmed cases per day in the whole country. In any other place, that would probably be a sign to throw all caution to the wind and celebrate the festivities as usual (ehm… yes, exactly what happened in Spain last Christmas and which caused the third and biggest wave to date), but not here. These small outbreaks were a big deal to China because we had been basically virus free for months already. And, as the Spring Festival, aka Chinese New Year, aka the “largest annual human migration in the world” was close, the authorities were fast to start a campaign encouraging people to avoid travel and celebrate the festival in the place they currently are. If they want to travel, they need a negative test and maybe even quarantine, depending on where they come from.

Chinese New Year decorations in a mall in Suzhou.


Many Chinese people are “domestic migrants”, as they might be from a place but move somewhere else for work. These domestic migrants often only go back to their hometown and visit their parents and other relatives for the Spring Festival, partly because they don’t have many more holidays and also because it’s the most important festivity in the Chinese calendar. For blue collar workers, many times also their children live in the hometown and they only see each other once a year. So, not going back home for Chinese New Year really is a big deal. But, to avoid spreading the virus further, companies are giving incentives to the workers that stay in the city, in the form of extra money or entertainment vouchers. It is a pain in the ass to have to spend the most important holiday alone, but I think it’s more important to avoid having overwhelmed hospitals and thousands of death, right? According to this article by the New York Times, though, it’s like the evil Chinese government is just trying to screw up everybody and only cares about the economy… right. Because it would be much better to just have everybody move around the whole country and then in 3 weeks see the consequences. Like it happened in Spain after Christmas or in the US after Thanksgiving.

Thean Hou temple in Kuala Lumpur fully decorated for CNY. This pic is from our 2018 trip.


We are lucky in the sense that we live in my husband’s hometown so we can see his family whenever we want. But we never cared much about Chinese New Year and, in fact, we always took the chance to travel during the holidays. Now this is going to be the third Spring Festival in a row that I spend in Suzhou. We will not go anywhere far, but I want to visit some places within the city. At least we will be able to leave our apartment, unlike last year! There will also be one more difference: After years of being banned, throwing fireworks and firecrackers will finally be allowed this year. Previously it was banned because it contributes to bad air quality, I think, and I’m not sure why this year it is allowed. I think maybe it’s to cheer everybody up? C. believes it’s because, in old times, firecrackers were used to scare evil spirits away. Maybe the firecrackers will help drive the evil virus away? We’ll see! I’m not a big fan of them, though. I remember one year when I was in Beijing for the Lantern Festival (2 weeks after Chinese New Year and also part of the festive period) and the noise of firecrackers didn’t stop for like 12 hours. It was very annoying! I have never experienced firecrackers in Suzhou, though.

Next year will be the Year of the Ox. If you are interested in astrology, you can have a look at the predictions for next year here. In summary… keep your head down like an ox! “Keep calm and carry on as best you can in 2021, but hold off on major moves if you’re able”.

I wish you a happy 牛 (pronounced new, “ox”) Year! Will you celebrate it?