BEIJING – With the start of the Lunar New Year Friday, it is a time for the Chinese to reunite with their families, often after lengthy journeys, to eat, watch the most popular television show in the world and exchange lucky money.
As they welcome the Year of the Dog, here are five things to know about the celebrations:
1. The dog, loyal but stubborn
According to Chinese astrology, those born in the Year of the Dog are forthright and loyal with a keen sense of justice, even if they are also reputed to be stubborn, irritable and easily angered.
Hong Kong geomancers predict a complicated year ahead, with US President Donald Trump, born in 1946 – the year of the "fire dog" – facing a run of bad luck as his element is mismatched with that of 2018, which is an "earth dog" year.
However, to welcome the Year of the Dog, a mall in northern China has erected a giant canine statue with Trump's trademark hairstyle and eyebrows glowering over shoppers, one index finger raised.
FILE: People attend a firecracker ceremony and cultural festival to mark the first day of the Lunar New Year in Chinatown neighbourhood in Manhattan, February 16, 2018, in New York City. CREDIT: DREW ANGERER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
2. Biggest migration
Every year hundreds of millions of Chinese return to their home region to celebrate the Lunar New Year with their families in the world's largest annual human migration.
From February 1 to 10, Chinese passengers had already made 732 million trips by rail, road, waterway and plane, even though the holiday only officially started on Thursday.
In 2017, Chinese people made about three billion trips throughout the New Year period.
The annual migration puts a huge strain on transport, with trains packed with passengers, many of whom end up having to stand for the long trip home.
3. No fireworks for Beijing
After a New Year's Eve dinner of dumplings, it is traditional to light strings of firecrackers at the door to the house to scare off evil spirits.
But the Year of the Dog got an unusually quiet welcome in Beijing this year. Anxious to curb winter pollution, the capital has – like 440 other Chinese cities – banned firecrackers and fireworks, resulting in an eerily quiet New Year's Eve.
FILE: Dancers perform during a cultural festival to mark the first day of the Lunar New Year in Chinatown neighbourhood in Manhattan, February 16, 2018, in New York City. CREDIT: DREW ANGERER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
4. (Communist) Party time with biggest TV show
The New Year's Eve party show broadcast on CCTV state television is the most watched show in the world. In recent years the annual extravaganza may have lost some of its appeal among young people but the spectacle still draws a massive audience, with more than 700 million viewers tuning into the 2017 performance.
Every year for the past 35 years, the show offers a mix of popular artistes, sketches, performances by ethnic minorities and edifying musical numbers singing the praises of the Communist regime.
For the Year of the Dog, the CCTV show succeeded in uniting top pop stars Faye Wong and Na Ying on stage together for the first time in two decades.
But the ruling Communist Party was never far away, as other songs evoked the "new era" advocated by President Xi Jinping or his pet "New Silk Roads" infrastructure project.
5. Battle of the red envelopes
Traditionally, one offers lucky money in "red envelopes" at Lunar New Year. But these gifts are now also sent in electronic form via smartphone, with the option to let a sum divide randomly between several friends.
China's two titans of online payments, Tencent's WeChat and Alibaba's Alipay, each year wage a hard-fought battle to attract people to their platform, distributing their own gift "envelopes" to lure users.
In 2017, 46 billion red envelopes were exchanged by WeChat users in six days.
FILE: Dancers perform during a cultural festival to mark the first day of the Lunar New Year in Chinatown neighborhood in Manhattan, February 16, 2018 in New York City. CREDIT: DREW ANGERER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP