Chinese New Year, the most celebrated holiday for the Chinese and many Asian countries, is all the holidays packed into one. First and foremost, it is a time for family gathering when families gather together for the most important (and most extravagant) meals of the year; a time for gift giving and passing out lucky red pocket money when visiting family and friends; a time for fun and festivities in the form of flower markets, lion dances, and firecrackers; and a time for optimism as a new lunar year begins and people hope for health, luck, and prosperity.
In today's China, Chinese New Year takes on increased importance due to the phenomenon of the migrant worker--a population of China's youth whom have left their rural homes in the countryside and moved to southern and eastern coastal cities in search of work with higher wages. This group of workers are the backbone of China's economic machine as a majority of them work in China's factories that produce exports to the rest of the world and helped propel China's economy in the last thirty plus years to the world's second largest economy.
All year they are separated from their loved ones, and Chinese New Year is the one time where they make the exodus back home to visit family and friends. It is the most joyous time for the migrant workers when they are reunited with parents and/or children and it is also the most joyous time for those left behind as well, as all year long they look forward to the 1-2 weeks where their loved ones return home. It is not surprising that everyone place great importance to this time of year and must make the journey back--regardless of expense and hardships in the form of climate or travelling conditions.
China's economic miracle has come in the expense of breaking a sacred Chinese ideal of family, and Chinese New Year is the glue that reunites families together.
Unlike some holidays where the anticipation build up lasts for months, but the actual holiday comes and pasts after one day; festivities for Chinese New Year lasts for 1-2 weeks after the New Year's day. The days after New Year's day are spent visiting the homes of family and friends, exchanging gifts, worshipping in temples, and of course alot of eating. The holiday is never a let down and always lives up to the billing.
With China's growing importance and overseas Chinese scattered in all corners of the world, perhaps one day we will see Chinese New Year holiday as an official holiday in the west. It is truly a unique part of China's long and rich history and an inherent part of Chinese culture that should be shared to all who values the importance of family, friends, optimism, and thanksgiving.
Happy Chinese New Year!