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Chinese hosts share the Lunar New Year with Olympic athletes, personnel and media

At the Main Media Center, the central hub for press, volunteers offered passersby the opportunity to paint calligraphy onto traditional New Year couplets.

BEIJING — Chinese residents normally ring in the start of the New Year with fireworks, lanterns, balloons, food, and family time. But this year, the holiday is very different.

While Tuesday marked the official beginning of the two-week long Lunar New Year in China and the start of the Year of the Tiger, thousands of locals working and volunteering at the Beijing Olympics are celebrating in a new way.

Due to the Olympics strict COVID bubble, instead of spending time with family, they are sharing their traditions with scores of foreign athletes, media, and other Olympics personnel locked within the closed loop system alongside them.

In this system, people at the Games are completely restricted from stepping foot outside of designated Olympics spaces. The streets of Beijing, which is out of reach for athletes and other Games personnel, were decorated with Chinese red lanterns and other traditional symbols for the holiday.

Yang Yang, the chairwoman of the Athletes' Commission of the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee, said it's sad many participants, including herself, can't spend time with families, the dual celebration of the Olympics and Lunar New Year is a unique moment for China.

"It's the only time in history where the Chinese New Year and the Olympics are happening at the same time," Yang said.

Beijing Olympics Organizers made sure to acknowledge the major holiday and the Chinese Lunar New Year traditions in other ways. Décor and symbols of the holiday, like bright red New Year couplets, onto which good wishes are painted, were pasted on doors and walls of hotels and venues.

At the Main Media Center, the central hub for press, volunteers offered passersby the opportunity to paint calligraphy onto traditional diamond shaped New Year couplets known as Fai Chun.

Volunteers at the Beijing Fujian Hotel also gave out miniature tiger figurines in honor of 2022 to people staying there. Cultural celebrations were also being held for athletes in their Olympic villages in the host city, according to Yang. Meals being offered to athletes will include dumplings, a traditional meal during New Year dinners.

"Food is the most important thing," during New Year celebrations, she said.

The Lunar New Year lasts until Feb. 15, when Chinese organizers said they will also serve sweet rice dumplings with the hope that "guests can experience the Chinese culture on the tip of their tongues."

The Year of the Tiger is meant to represent strength and bravery. Ideally, these symbols of good luck and strength sprinkled throughout Beijing will spread to the athletes arriving for the start of the Olympics this week. The opening ceremony is set to begin Feb. 4. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.