China is celebrating the Spring Festival, its most important annual festival as it entered the Lunar new Year of the Tiger on Tuesday, bidding goodbye to the Lunar Year of the Ox. Chinese residents normally ring in the start of the New Year with fireworks, lanterns, balloons, food, and family time. But this year, it is very different.
This year the celebrations coincide with the Beijing Winter Olympics, which open near the end of the weeklong holiday. Capital Beijing has been tightening controls to contain coronavirus outbreaks ahead of the international sporting event causing a subdued celebration. This will be the third new year in a row celebrated in the shadow of the pandemic. Despite government warnings over COVID-19 cases in Beijing and several other cities, China witnessed a huge travel rush this year but tens of thousands of volunteers, officials and staff staying inside the sealed-off Olympic bubble are not able to visit their families back home.
The new year’s atmosphere has faded with the closure of temples and seasonal fairs to prevent large crowds. Due to a ban on public spectators for Olympics and tighter virus controls have again affected the usual bump up in tourism and consumption.
Nearly 3,000 athletes from approximately 90 countries and regions will compete at Beijing 2022, which will feature more events and produce more gold medals than any of the previous games. Experts believe that government may keep restrictions largely in place next month also due to the Winter Paralympics and the annual national legislative sessions scheduled in March.
The Year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese Zodiac, runs from Feb. 1, 2022 to Jan. 21, 2023. In Chinese culture, the tiger symbolizes bravery, vigor and strength and it is believed that it can lift people from adversity and usher in final auspiciousness and peace.
In his Spring Festival message to the Chinese people, President Xi Jinping underscored the importance of unity of the country in forging ahead towards national rejuvenation as he is widely expected to continue for an unprecedented third five-year term in power unlike his predecessors who retired after two terms.