BEIJING – Chinese throughout the country and in foreign communities welcomed on Tuesday the Lunar New Year in which the carefree and generous pig, the 12th symbol of the horoscope, replaces the cheerful but non-conformist dog.
For a week, the most populated country in the world comes to a stop and hundreds of millions of people visit their family home to welcome the Earth Pig year 4717, associated with fertility and prosperity.
The 12th zodiac sign can be found on many signs and insignias across China.
Several cities welcomed the New Year with fireworks to repel bad spirits. However, in bigger cities including Beijing, fireworks have been banned due to pollution and security threats.
With the ban on firecrackers, which was implemented last year, Beijing marked the end of a 12-year period during which fireworks were allowed all across the city, leading to major fires such as one in 2009 that swept through the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
The Chinese begin the year with ancestral traditions – a combination of superstitions and customs – with the aim to ward off misfortunes and bring good luck, prosperity and abundance.
Many rituals including spring-cleaning homes, decorating streets and hosting large family banquets on New Year’s Eve are common practice.
Another part of the festivities is “hongbao” or red envelopes containing money, which are given to family and friends for luck in the coming year.
In the last few years, with a boom in payments made by mobile phone, hongbaos are now also sent through applications such as WeChat (similar to WhatsApp).
It is a way of spreading good luck to those who receive it, and intention matters more than the amount.
The family reunions in China mean that millions of people return to their cities of origin. Authorities expect there will be almost 3 billion trips made during the so-called “Spring Festival,” the 40-day period that started on Jan. 21 and ends on March 1.