Of thinning crowds and local expats' New Year celebrations

Alexander Bushroe
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on mobility, but I'm happy that I can still celebrate the holiday season.
Alexander Bushroe

Lunar New Year is always a lively time for those of us living in China; expats included. Perhaps before coming here, we'd heard of Lunar New Year before – almost exclusively called Chinese New Year in the West – via TV or media or perhaps through neighbors and friends of Chinese heritage. Perhaps, if you're from a rural or more isolated area, you'd had little to no experience with it at all. But, of course, after spending any appreciable amount of time in the country, Lunar New Year becomes just as important of a holiday as the Gregorian calendar's New Year.

The process of adopting the holiday, assimilating into the customs and traditions therein, and possibly even starting some of your own habits is a gradual one.

During my early years in Jiangsu Province, I was young and just enjoying the fun. Back then, it was still legal to set off fireworks in the downtown city streets, so New Year's for me was just about enjoying the noisy, fun novelty of it all.

I and many of my expat colleagues and friends then didn't necessarily have a truly deep feeling for the holiday's meaning and significance, but we celebrated it just the same.

Perhaps we were influenced by the festive atmosphere in the air or by the excitement and momentousness of the holiday we sensed from our local friends. Whatever the impetus, we'd often become emotionally involved in the holiday celebrations just as we do when the countdown reaches zero on the night of December 31st.

One phenomenon I noticed immediately during my first New Year holiday after moving down to Shanghai was the dramatic thinning of crowds in the city. In the town in Jiangsu where I lived, the streets and local businesses would fill up with people during the holiday vacation period, as many folks originally from the area but living elsewhere ­– perhaps in Shanghai – returned to spend the festive season with family, creating an influx of people greater than the seasonal outflow. Here, the opposite occurs.

Non-local people residing in the city return en masse to their hometowns for the holiday. The result is something we can all appreciate – shortened lines, little traffic, and seating on the Metro, even during rush hour.

The exodus provides those of us remaining in the city with a respite from the hustle and bustle of regular Shanghai life.

Granted, that's not always 100 percent positive. Many of our favorite conveniences are unavailable during the holiday period.

From waimai food deliveries to local entertainment venues, many businesses are closed during the holiday. For some people, this can make the season feel a bit lonely at times. On the other hand, though, it can be a great time to catch up on work or other errands and tasks languishing on the back burner.

For me, now I have a Chinese family, so I usually travel to my future wife's hometown to visit with her parents and family members. I truly enjoy the opportunity to relax and socialize with them and enjoy the festive atmosphere of a traditional Lunar New Year.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on mobility, but I'm happy that I can still celebrate the holiday season.

Happy New Year to all of you, and may it be an enjoyable one regardless of how you spend it.

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