But this year, the festive season has become a season of fear.
Wuhan — and several surrounding cities — are in partial lockdown. Authorities in Beijing have canceled all large-scale Lunar New Year celebrations, including traditional fairs and celebrations around temples.
And there’s other things that threaten to put a dampener on the holiday period, which lasts for 15 days.
Major New Year’s celebrations have also been canceled in the special administrative regions of Macao and Hong Kong, which have each reported two coronavirus cases.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this. Lunar New Year is to China what the Christmas-New Year holiday period is to the United States — except China’s 1.4 billion population is more than four times that of the US.
Now, hundreds of thousands of people in China are facing disrupted travel plans. On Thursday morning, travelers queued up at Wuhan’s high-speed railway station, trying to leave before trains stopped running.
China’s largest online travel agency announced that it would waive Wuhan cancellation policies, and pay travelers back if a hotel refuses to refund the booking fee.
Eva Kwang, 35, was at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station on Friday to cancel her family’s train tickets to Guangzhou, in southern Guangdong province.
She said she was sad that she couldn’t see her family, but was worried about her two kids. “I think the safety for us is more important than my dinner with them,” she told CNN. “I think I can go back and visit them after maybe one month or two months.”
On China’s social media platforms, there has been mixed reaction to what promises to be a more sedate holiday season.
One user found a positive — rather than going from house to house visiting different family members as is traditional during the Lunar New Year period, the poster could just call them on the phone.
But another — who claimed to be in Wuhan — seemed more upset. Although the person’s parents were only on the other side of the river, they couldn’t have dinner together, the poster claimed. “Do you guys understand the pain of people in Wuhan?”
CNN’s Sherisse Pham and Alex Lin contributed reporting.