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Do Uyghur Celebrate Chinese New Year?

January 28 | 6 Comments

This week, China celebrates the Chinese New Year, a holiday that also goes by the name “Spring Festival”. It’s the country’s largest holiday, even in minority provinces like Xinjiang and Tibet. Naturally, I get many people who ask me…do Uyghur people celebrate the Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year lanterns

Whether you visit Beijing, Shanghai, Tibet, or Xinjiang you won’t be able to miss the elaborate decorations and deafening firecrackers – a great experience for first time visitors but an event that most seasoned expats avoid.

Although the holiday is acknowledged in every part of China, not everybody takes part in these celebrations.

Take, for instance, the Uyghur. They make up almost half the population in the province of Xinjiang yet most of them don’t actively participate in Spring Festival activities.

The Chinese may include Uyghur dances or phrases in their annual variety show, but in general…

Uyghur do not (willingly) celebrate Chinese New Year.

Just Another Winter Day in Xinjiang

In Xinjiang, most everybody will be given vacation time for the Spring Festival, including Uyghur, but this blanket statement doesn’t apply to all professions. 

In the hospitals for instance, most Uyghur doctors will be expected to work the holiday…

…Uyghur restaurants are still open…

…and if you forgot to buy certain groceries, you can count on a Uyghur store when all other places are closed.

At an Uyghur home, the day isn’t considered particularly special special.

Each of my Uyghur friends told me that they might watch the variety show just because it’s something to do, but they don’t gather as a family to eat large meals like the Han Chinese or pass money to family members in the form of hong bao.

What the Uyghur DO Celebrate

While the Chinese celebrate the lunar New Year, all of the Muslim minority groups here in Xinjiang – including Uyghur – will celebrate a festival called Noruz – also spelled Nowruz and pronounced to sound like “new rose”.

Unlike the Chinese Spring Festival, Noruz marks the actual first day of spring and is celebrated on March 21st around the world, plus or minus a day due to time zone variation.

Old Uyghur men celebrating

Uyghur, Hui, Kazakh and all other Muslim minorities don’t get a day off for this holiday, but that doesn’t stop its celebration. Families and friends usually gather to take part in a big meal and watch traditional dances and songs on TV.

Outside the cities where farming is the primary profession, this holiday is also supposed to mark the first day for plowing the fields. In the south of Xinjiang the weather usually permits this but in the north the temperature is still too cold to begin.

The REAL Spring Festival

I always find it funny when Chinese call their holiday the “Spring Festival”, especially since I can see a foot of snow when I look outside my window.

Spring? You call this SPRING?!

I’m still wearing two pairs of long johns, for goodness sake. No person in their right mind would consider this the spring season.

Late March sounds a bit more reasonable.

My opinion doesn’t matter, however, as much as the fact that Noruz is the vernal equinox. This, I believe, is the REAL Spring Festival.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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  1. "In the hospitals for instance, most Uyghur doctors will be expected to work the holiday. "

    Could you elaborate on this? Is this a rule that has to be followed or a general practice What about the Han doctors?

    I get the impression from your description that the Uyghur doctors are being discriminated because they do not celebrate the Spring Festival for culture difference reasons. I wonder if the Uyghur doctors will get time off for their own festival(s), such as Nuroz you mentioned, while the Han doctors will be expected to be on duty then?

    In a society, some hospitals, at least some part of the hospitals, must open 24/7 I suppose. I don't think this is a Chinese characteristic, correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Great comment.

    When I spoke with the Uyghur doctor I got the impression that he and his Uyghur collegues were required by the hospital to work during Spring Festival. He told me, however, that he didn't care because he didn't celebrate the holiday. Most Han doctors were given the day off, but since there aren't enough Uyghur doctors on staff to cover the whole hospital, some still had to work.

    Uyghur doctors don't get time off for Nuroz unless they specifically ask for that time off, but again, I don't think they care. It's not a huge Muslim holiday. They get off extra time during Eid, their largest holiday.

    Hope that clears things up! The doctor I spoke to didn't sound very cynical about the whole situation so I don't think we should make it into an issue.

  3. Josh,

    Thanks for the clarification. I have no intention to make this into a big issue. However, given the circumstances, I think it would be better to have it clarified, because there might be some people who'd like to make this kind of things into big issues (you know what I mean). Thanks again.

  4. Do they get discriminated? trust me, discrimination is less of a description. let’s say, Uyghurs are the second citizens in China. all the good rules applied to Han, while Uyghurs get the opposite and when they try to speak up their right, they are deemed to be either separatists or terrorists.