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City Life - Report
Written by Mary Deniers
China’s Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, is the most important festival for the Chinese population. It begins on the first day of the first Chinese lunar month (which usually falls between January and February of the Calendar of the Occident).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival is marked by sumptuous banquets, exorbitant gift exchange and celebrations. However, finally a more environmentally conscious educational campaign sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund has launched an initiative called ”Green Spring Festival” persuading the public towards a more energy conscious celebration. Spring Festival Tradition and Customs According to tradition and customs, the Spring Festival lasts 15 days with celebrations that are marked by exorbitant waste and energy use. Fireworks have been the mainstay of Spring Festivals.

Cities and villages literally explode with fireworks as soon as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Despite a ban on fireworks in larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai during the early years of the 1990’s (due to safety concerns), sales of fireworks for the recent 2009 New Year have increased by 30 percent. In Beijing alone, 69 tons of firework debris were collected after the recent New Year’s Eve, 14 tons more than were collected the same night last year.

Gifts, often presented with excessive packaging, have always been exorbitant during the New Year celebrations. Lucky money is given to youngsters in red envelopes which, when emptied, are more often than not thrown into the garbage. Lucky charm banners and lanterns are hung over doors and walls contributing to festival waste. Even the New Year tradition and custom of setting out everything new—from tablecloths, dishes, bedding and clothes in order to greet the New Year with good luck—is questionable from the perspective of conservation.

Spring Festival and Green Initiatives

With China’s wish to lower its energy consumption per unit GDP by 20% by 2010, a low-carbon Spring Festival is of utmost importance. World Wildlife Fund’s China Office has opened its website offering tips and green initiatives for energy saving during the celebrations. Suggestions include reducing wasteful revelry, avoiding throwaway wooden chopsticks in restaurants, gifts with excessive packaging and firecracker use.

Response has been consistent, although small. So far, only 4,300 people across the country have shown support for a low carbon Spring Festival. Organizers, however, are not deterred, insisting that 20,000 people signing up by the end of February this year would be a good start. In a gesture of environmental concern, more than 800 households in Mingshida community in Tianjin for example, refrained from using fireworks. This gesture is a significant beginning for the greening of the Spring Festival.

Fireworks have been a thousand year tradition in China and traditions are hard to break. Nevertheless, group pressure has been known to move mountains and the World Wildlife Fund’s China Office’s determination to spread the word about environmental issues is a positive step in the green direction.

The greening of China’s Spring Festival is in its infancy right now. China will most probably not meet its 20% reduction target by 2010. Given time, however, old attitudes will and must change in this era of tremendeous global energy and environmental problems. When a country whose population exceeds 1.3 billion changes, the tidal momentum will be undeniable.

Our valuable Editor Mary Deniers has been with us since Sunday, 04 April 2010.
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