BEIJING – Wednesday is the day the Chinese people bid farewell to the year of the horse and welcome the year of the goat, filling the streets with people as well as organizing parades, fairs or stage shows in celebration of the Chinese lunar New Year.
The Spring Festival, as Chinese call it, is a week-long, festive family-oriented holiday during which time hundreds of millions of people travel from one place to another, creating the world’s largest population displacement.
Large cities remain half empty while population density increases in rural areas, since many people who live far from home go back to celebrate the New Year with their families.
In major cities, the Chinese New Year alters everyday scenes.
There are no traffic jams, low pollution, and even seats available on the subway, not to mention fewer people in the office complexes.
Many Chinese head to places like Beijing’s Temple of Earth, which plays host to the popular Spring Festival fair.
The Temple of Earth fills with crowds as visitors buy sweets, incense and wooden figures, or watch performances of Chinese opera, rock bands and other forms of entertainment.
Figures in the shape of a goat, the symbol of the incoming year, are displayed as ornaments on the doors of the houses, decorating offices and, needless to say, shopping centers and restaurants.
They are a reminder that Thursday will be the first day of the New Year with the same zodiac sign that governs the fate of the Chinese people during what will be the year 4172 on their calendars.
A great deal of superstition is involved in having a good time, as tradition dictates a series of rituals to follow.
Chinese families go out at midnight and set off firecrackers to celebrate the New Year, after having sat down to a huge dinner and giving children little red envelopes with money inside, since red is the color of good luck.
The custom in the north dictates that the whole family helps in making “jiaozi” traditional Chinese dumplings that have a coin concealed inside one of them, in the belief that the person who finds it will enjoy good fortune in the New Year.
There are also the New Year parades, which are mainly held in southern China, with folk dances such as the dragon dance and the lion dance combining dance steps and martial arts.
Celebrations this year are taking place under heavy security after an explosion that killed 36 people who were welcoming the New Year last Dec. 31 in Shanghai.
According to the Chinese calendar, the year of the goat will last until Feb. 8, 2016, when the year of the monkey begins.