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Red Envelopes, Trains And TV: Five Things To Know About Chinese New Year Celebrations

With the start of the Lunar New Year Friday, it is a time for the Chinese to reunite with their families, often after lengthy journeys, to eat, watch the most popular television show in the world and exchange lucky money.

Aerial view of a maze at the Tang Paradise Park in Xian, Shaanxi province, on February 14, 2018, ahead of the coming Lunar New Year, marking the Year of the Dog. Photo credit: AFP / Fred Dufour

As they welcome the Year of the Dog, here are five things to know about the celebrations:

The dog, loyal but stubborn

According to Chinese astrology, those born in the Year of the Dog are forthright and loyal with a keen sense of justice, even if they are also reputed to be stubborn, irritable and easily angered.

Hong Kong geomancers predict a complicated year ahead, with US President Donald Trump, born in 1946 — the year of the “fire dog” — facing a run of bad luck as his element is mismatched with that of 2018, which is an “earth dog” year.

However, to welcome the Year of the Dog, a mall in northern China has erected a giant canine statue with Trump’s trademark hairstyle and eyebrows glowering over shoppers, one index finger raised.

Members of the Chinese community perform a lion dance as they welcome the Lunar New Year of the dog at the China town area in Kolkata on February 16, 2018. Photo credit: AFP / Dibayangshu Sarkar

Biggest migration

Every year hundreds of millions of Chinese return to their home region to celebrate the Lunar New Year with their families in the world’s largest annual human migration.

From February 1 to 10, Chinese passengers had already made 732 million trips by rail, road, waterway and plane, even though the holiday only officially started on Thursday.

In 2017, Chinese people made about three billion trips throughout the New Year period.

The annual migration puts a huge strain on transport, with trains packed with passengers, many of whom end up having to stand for the long trip home.

Chinese dancers dressed with a traditional costume, wait for their turn during a wedding performance as part of the She Huo festival, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, marking the Year of the Dog, in Hancheng, Shaanxi province, on February 16, 2018. Photo credit: Fred Dufour

No fireworks for Beijing

After a New Year’s Eve dinner of dumplings, it is traditional to light strings of firecrackers at the door to the house to scare off evil spirits.

But the Year of the Dog got an unusually quiet welcome in Beijing this year. Anxious to curb winter pollution, the capital has — like 440 other Chinese cities — banned firecrackers and fireworks, resulting in an eerily quiet New Year’s Eve.

Chinese young people ride a scooter under red lanterns, in Hancheng, Shaanxi province, on February 16, 2018. Photo credit: AFP / Fred Dufour

(Communist) Party time with biggest TV show

The New Year’s Eve party show broadcast on CCTV state television is the most watched show in the world. In recent years the annual extravaganza may have lost some of its appeal among young people but the spectacle still draws a massive audience, with more than 700 million viewers tuning into the 2017 performance.

Every year for the past 35 years, the show offers a mix of popular artistes, sketches, performances by ethnic minorities and edifying musical numbers singing the praises of the Communist regime.

For the Year of the Dog, the CCTV show succeeded in uniting top pop stars Faye Wong and Na Ying on stage together for the first time in two decades.

But the ruling Communist Party was never far away, as other songs evoked the “new era” advocated by President Xi Jinping or his pet “New Silk Roads” infrastructure project.

Members of the Chinese community pray a the community temple as they welcome the Lunar New Year of the dog at the China town area in Kolkata on February 16, 2018. Photo credit: AFP / Dibayangshu Sarkar

Battle of the red envelopes

Traditionally, one offers lucky money in “red envelopes” at Lunar New Year. But these gifts are now also sent in electronic form via smartphone, with the option to let a sum divide randomly between several friends.

China’s two titans of online payments, Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay, each year wage a hard-fought battle to attract people to their platform, distributing their own gift “envelopes” to lure users.

In 2017, 46 billion red envelopes were exchanged by WeChat users in six days.

Chinese woman dressed with a traditional costume, attends a wedding performance as part of the She Huo festival, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, marking the Year of the Dog, in Hancheng, Shaanxi province, on February 16, 2018. Photo credit: Fred Dufour

***AFP

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