Last week China celebrated what is called the “Spring Festival”, the country’s largest holiday. 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 (read my Top 5 reason to Escape Chinese New Year to know why).
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 (this year actors proclaimed that “CCP’s…policies are yakexi” which in Uyghur means “good”) but in general…
Uyghur do not celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Just Another Winter Day…
In Xinjiang most everybody will have 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 a Uyghur home the day isn’t considered 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 (February 14th this 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.
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 ploughing 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. 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.
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