7 ways to celebrate Chinese New Year

7 ways to celebrate Chinese New Year

You're not just going to sit there and watch, are you? Here's how to do the Snake proud

Tacky New Year's tunes, fashion faux pas in blazing red, businesses either closed or packed -- traveling in China during Chinese New Year (CNY) can be discouraging.

Unless you know how to embrace the holiday like a local.

The Year of Snake begins on February 10 and celebrations will last for two weeks.

To get more from the experience than the ability to parrot "kung xi fa cai" or "gung hei fat choy" (Happy New Year), here are seven ways for travelers to celebrate Chinese New Year, aka Spring Festival.

Bet on horses

Chinese New Year RaceChinese New Year Race. Now you know what to do with all those red packets.
Believe it or not, CNY is a time for gamblers, professional and otherwise.

Many high rollers make their way to the gaudy casinos of Macau during this auspicious time.

A short boat ride away in Hong Kong, crowds gather for a day at the horse track.

The Chinese New Year Race is one of the most popular race days of the year. Held on the third day of Spring Festival (February 12, 2013), the city's Sha Tin Racecourse hosts 11 races.

In addition to horses charging, fans can watch traditional lion dances, spin fortune wheels and get a personal 2013 forecast from a feng shui master, so even the unluckiest gambler can enjoy the day.

Out of towners get in free to the races by providing valid travel documents.

Sha Tin Racecourse, February 12, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (first post time at 12:30 p.m.), $10 entry fee, free for tourists, www.hkjc.com

More on CNN: Understanding the Chinese lion dace

Pray for good luck

TouxiangHold incense like this and you won't poke anyone's eye.
While dodging falling ashes from burning incense, travelers can march with thousands of worshippers to temples around China on the first day of the Spring Festival, February 10, 2013.

Offering incense (touxiang) to God is said to be essential for ensuring luck for the year.

The pilgrimage to a temple can appear confusing to some, but it's a rich cultural celebration. 

Whether visiting Beijing's Yonghe Temple, Shanghai's Longhua Temple, Hong Kong's Wong Tai Sin Temple or some other sacred spot, bring along three incense sticks (or a multiple of three), follow the mob and place the incense in one of the incense burners in front of or around the temple.

Try to hold your incense high to avoid poking someone in the eyes.

Extreme celebrants will start queuing long before a given temple’s opening at midnight on New Year. Are you brave enough to deal with the midnight craze? See the madness here.

More on CNN: Praying for good fortune at Lunar New Year

Eat lucky food

Chinese New Year dumpling"Sure, we'll have another."
Chinese New Year foods differ in various regions.

For many Chinese families, fish is like the Thanksgiving turkey of Chinese New Year. In Mandarin, the word for fish ("yu") sounds like the word for "leftover," implying a plentiful year to come.

For similar reasons, if you're invited to a Chinese family dinner during CNY, don't try to finish everything on the table.

Other typical CNY treats include: taro cake, turnip cake, jau gok (crispy dumplings), dumpling and babaofan (eight-treasure rice pudding). 

In Mandarin, "niangao" (glutinous rice cake) sounds like “year rise,” signifying a year of progress and prosperity.  

With its communal spirit, hotpot is another popular eating choice at this time of year.

More on CNN: Amazing stats: China's Lunar New Year by numbers

Watch CCTV's New Year’s Gala

CCTV HeadquartersCCTV headquarters in Beijing. The network produces the festival's biggest television countdown show.
A CNY without watching CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala isn't a complete New Year's experience.

The state-owned CCTV network's Spring Festival Gala is an annual five-hour TV program that runs on New Year’s Eve from 7 p.m. until some time after midnight.

In addition to song, dance, acrobatics and stand-up comedy, the ever-lasting show -- it runs without commercial breaks -- is also a platform for government propaganda.

The show has evolved to become a way for the public to learn who is in and who is out of favor for the year, and catch up on Chinese trends and culture among Chinese living abroad.

It’s said that performers who are invited on the show will go on to great careers in China.

It’s also probably the biggest show on the planet, attracting 700 million viewers, six times the Super Bowl’s audience.

It may be the longest five hours of your life, but it’s a great way to learn about China.

More on CNN: Hong Kong's snake soup kings

Watch fireworks displays or set some off

fireworksFireworks and Chinese New Year -- best combination since dumplings and soy-vinegar.
Fireworks and firecrackers spark nationwide during CNY.

As in most places in China, Hong Kong’s CNY fireworks are the biggest fireworks display of the year. The nonstop blasts go on for 20 minutes and attract more than 300,000 people along the waterfront.

Across the border in mainland China, where fireworks and firecrackers aren't banned for personal use, millions set off fireworks everywhere, from country to cities, often lighting up the skyline.

Each year, Taijiang County in Guizhou Province celebrates the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year (February 24, 2013) with a dancing dragon and fireworks.

Countries with large Chinese populations such as Singapore and Indonesia also have major fireworks displays. 

Ear plugs can be handy if you plan to sleep.

More on CNN: Revealed for the first time: The feng shui of an airplane

Squeeze your way through a CNY bazaar

Chinese New Year marketFortune wheels help you to swirl back the luck.
CNY bazaars used to be all-in-one temporary markets selling things needed for the Spring Festival -- flowers, candy, clothes and ornaments, among other items.

The bazaars have evolved a long way from pure CNY markets to flea markets selling DIY goodies. Most of them are embarrassingly cheesy, themed to the year's Chinese zodiac (snake this year), or, perhaps, Angry Birds.

Bazaars open for a few days till late at night before the new year.

Prime time to visit the markets is on New Year's Eve after a big family dinner. The stalls tend to stay open until midnight or even early the next morning while offering big discounts.

There are more than 10 CNY bazaars in Hong Kong alone.

For a more traditional bazaar, head to Taipei, where the city's 19th-century Dihua Street is turned into a traditional CNY bazaar every year. 

More on CNN: So-bad-they're-good items in Chinese New Year market

Make out under peach blossoms

Chinese peach blossomGreat for loners longing for lovers.
It may not be the time of the largest blooms, but Spring Festival is the best time to look at peach blossoms.

Representing prosperity and love, peach blossoms play an important role in CNY. Lovers hoping to strengthen their bond or loners wishing to find love turn to the blossoms.

Even though April is the best month to see peach blossoms, the pink flowers are one of the most pursued blossoms during the festival.

Don't be surprised to see lovers sneaking a make-out session under the blossoms to re-affirm their love.

More on CNN: 5 blooming great flower festivals

Hiufu Wong is CNN Travel's staff writer.

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