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    Young Chinese Embrace Change in Traditional New Year Celebrations

    From simplifying Spring Festival meals to reducing the burden of family reunions, young Chinese are updating age-old Spring Festival customs.
    Feb 15, 2024#Lunar New Year

    This year marked the first time Huang Xueyan, 26, had taken on the role of “Spring Festival organizer” in her family. In the past, her parents would handle all the logistics, including what to do and whom to do it with. 

    But the over-scheduled events and visits to relatives made the previous Lunar New Year more of a chore than a break. So Huang decided to simplify things this year, focusing on their immediate family of four.

    Huang is not the only young Chinese making themselves more involved in their families’ Spring Festival celebrations this year. From taking their family’s New Year portraits to preparing hanfu — traditional Chinese clothing — young Chinese are bringing their tastes and preferences to the Lunar New Year table, including the dining table.

    The trend has been picked up by official state media, who say that young Chinese are switching from being passive participants of Spring Festival to active organizers, thereby changing how the traditional festival is celebrated.

    One of the main changes Huang made was switching from in-person visits to relatives’ homes to video calling instead. Reunions with relatives are customary during Spring Festival, but the occasion can be stress-inducing for young Chinese who are often bombarded with personal questions by older relatives.

    “The conversation gradually shifts to their children’s studies, work, and eventually marriage when they run out of topics,” said Huang. “That’s all the relatives can say when they have nothing else to talk about.”

    The video call format proved a surprising hit among both her immediate family and relatives. “My parents felt that this year’s celebration was relatively easy and relaxing,” Huang told Sixth Tone. Her relatives also appreciated not having to commute from all over the country back to their northwestern hometown of Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, during the busiest time of the year for travel.

    Another change Huang made was reducing their Lunar New Year’s Eve meal from dozens of dishes to just eight. Like most traditional Chinese families, the responsibility for preparing the hugely important meal falls on the family’s women, often requiring days of preparation in advance and a whole day in the kitchen once the day finally arrives, including cooking, serving, and cleaning.

    Recalling how much her feet would hurt from standing for extended hours in previous years, Huang chose to simplify their meal this year, also reducing the amount of food wasted.

    Instead of starting cooking at 8 a.m., she and her female family members were able to start at 4 p.m. and finish cooking in around two hours. “We finished all the food that evening and had no leftovers. I felt quite refreshed,” said Huang.

    Like Huang, Wang Qiling, 25, also found issue with certain traditional Spring Festival customs, most of all the relentless questioning by relatives whenever she returned to her hometown in the eastern Jiangsu province. “I don’t enjoy the unnecessary social obligations during Lunar New Year, but I miss spending time with my parents,” Wang told Sixth Tone.

    As such, she invited her parents to spend this year’s Spring Festival with her in Shanghai, where she now resides. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, they had dinner made up of ready-made meals and watched the Spring Festival Gala together. “Everything was simple and relaxing. I was very happy, and my parents seemed delighted too,” she said.

    Wang and her parents also added new elements to their chunlian, or Spring Festival couplets, this year, buying some that included English words, emojis, and various internet slang and memes. “Although these couplets were not traditional, they were in line with how young people today express themselves,” said Wang.

    Huang believes these updates to traditional Spring Festival customs are important for keeping the spirit of the festival alive. For her, she has gone from disliking the Lunar New Year to deriving a sense of accomplishment from it.

    “In the past, many people gathered together simply because of blood ties, without being particularly close,” Huang said. “Now when we come together, it’s truly out of love.”

    (Header image: VCG and Xiaohongshu)