The begin of the lunar year is the most important even in the Chinese calendar. It marks the begin of spring and the planting season and is the time of the year when Chinese people go home to visit their family.
The lunar new year is to the Chinese what Christmas is to western families: the most important occcasion for families to get together after a busy year.
In an increasingly consumer-orientated China the run-up to the Chinese New Year has, also not unlike the pre-Christmas season, become a time for stocking up on presents and new consumer goods for the families. Yunnan's ethnic markets are particularly busy as the minorities have adopted the Chinese customs and many who rarely make the long trek from their home village into the next markettown are certain to come, at least to view the vast range of consumer goods now on offer in China.
The lunar new year period is also a prime tourist season as more and more are eschewing the family get-together (not so interesting in a single-child family) and are going on holiday instead. For Yunnan's main tourist destinations the New Year is the biggest time of the year and accommodation prices often not double but quadruple.
About a week before New Year everybody is getting to move, causing huge crowds at the bus-stations. Planes and trains are solidly booked and prices for all forms of transport rise steeply. Touts abound, but their offerings are of dubious nature, often selling counterfit tickets.
The days immediately preceding the last day of the year are celebrated with increasing levels of fireworks, culminating on the last day with a big bang, driving out bad spirits. In the afternoon everything shuts down as families get together for the evening meal.
After the new year many shops remain closed for a few days, markets could not be more quiet, and everybody slowly heads home.
In some ways the Chinese New Year period is a lot of hassle for a visitor, in other ways it is fun to see the Chinese so obviously enjoying themselves. Simply walking through small villages is guaranteed to result in an invite to join a family for their meal. There are also some festivals in the two weeks to the first fool moon, such as the Miao Caihuashan and the Jingpo Munao, which are too good to miss.