Chinese celebrate Spring Festival in new ways as millions stay put
When firecrackers were set off to celebrate the Spring Festival, millions of Chinese chose not to go back to their hometowns for family gatherings, opting instead to stay where they were for the most important holiday of the year.
As a part of the preventative measures against COVID-19, China has encouraged people to stay locally for the Chinese New Year, inducing new changes to how people celebrate the holiday, such as the increasing use of online services and local tours.
Su Jianxiong, a postgraduate in Central South University of Forestry and Technology, central China's Hunan Province, spent his first Chinese New Year away from home.
On New Year's Eve, traditionally one of the most important occasions of family reunion, Su was invited to dinner hosted by the university. He also received a gift package including masks, disinfectants, nuts and chocolates from the school.
Su, who hails from Zhejiang Province, about 1,000 km away, chose to stay at the school to avoid potential risks of infection during the trip and spend more time preparing for his thesis.
"The care and hospitality shown by the university gave me a homely feeling," Su said.
Another large group responding to the stay-put call is migrant workers.
A survey led by the China Association for Labor Studies showed, among over 57,000 respondents in about 480 enterprises, 75.38 percent of migrant workers chose to stay at their current enterprises or cities for the Spring Festival this year.
Li Baojun, a worker in Daxing district in southern Beijing, which recently witnessed a resurgence of sporadic COVID-19 cases, decided to stay put instead of going back to his hometown in east China's Anhui Province.
The Daxing district government has offered shopping coupons, phone data packages and free online reading services to migrant workers like Li.
"Everything is smooth here, and my wife understands my decision of not returning home this year as it is for the sake of safety," Li said.
Ye Sifan, who works in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, decided not to return to her hometown in north China's Hebei Province. Instead, she celebrated the festival with two other colleagues by booking a table for New Year's Eve dinner through a food delivery platform.
"I got a seven-course meal for 398 yuan (about US$61.65), which is a decent New Year's Eve dinner," Ye said.
Traditionally, the dinner is homemade or enjoyed together with families at restaurants. This year, however, a new trend with the surging popularity of semi-finished products and online offerings has been seen.
According to statistics from China's major online food delivery platform Ele.me in early February, the number of brands and stores offering New Year's Eve dinner sets surged by 164 percent and 260 percent, respectively, compared with the same period last year.
The number of New Year's Eve dinner sets that were offered surged nearly three times compared with the figure last year.
More people have also opted to shop online for the Spring Festival.
China's Ministry of Commerce launched a campaign in late January to promote online shopping by offering online vouchers for the Spring Festival.
In Hunan Province, online sales have exceeded 9.8 billion yuan since the launch of the campaign, up 14.7 percent year on year, according to the provincial department of commerce.
Ye Lusha, a Beijing resident, canceled her travel plan to the tropical city of Sanya in south China's Hainan Province this year. Yet family trips are not completely off the table.
Ye's new plan is to take her parents to the Great Wall and enjoy a hot spring bath afterward.
"My parents are really anticipating the trip although it's local. Against the backdrop of the epidemic, we have come to appreciate the simple things around us more than ever," Ye said.
Many Chinese travel agencies have rolled out services focusing on "local trips" to meet the travel demands such as Ye's.
Dai Yu, a marketing director of online travel agency Trip.com Group, said the company provides private tours that cater to those who want to travel locally in a family unit.
"Through private tour using an independent vehicle as well as family dinner service on New Year's Eve, cross-infection can be avoided while ensuring quality time for the family," Dai said.
When it comes to short trips, an increased preference for suburban resort hotels has been seen among customers, with most rooms in popular scenic spots booked up.
A number of hotels in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province, have promoted "hotel vacations" for local residents. Some also organized reading events and exhibitions in the hotel for families to enjoy together.
Due to the limitation on the flow of people, Beijing held online temple fairs to showcase traditional crafts and cooking skills.
Starting February 8, tourists can also book free tours to Beijing's parks. Tickets to the Summer Palace, a famous tourist site, have been fully booked up for the first five days of the Chinese New Year.