Chinese families gather for bittersweet reunions during the Lunar New Year.

“I’m really looking forward to going home this time,” Sandy Bai says. “I’m grateful to be able to see my entire family.”

The young communication professional, who lives in Hong Kong, hasn’t been back to Shanghai in three years. She last saw her family in 2020, when she paid them a visit during the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival in China.

That visit occurred just before the pandemic was declared, and China’s zero-Covid policy, which required travelers to quarantine for weeks, kept her away from home in the years since. With most Covid restrictions lifted, millions of Chinese will return home this weekend to mark the start of the Year of the Rabbit, which falls on Sunday.

However, the sudden reversal of zero-Covid has resulted in an increase in cases in recent weeks, dampening what is the most important holiday of the year for the Chinese.
It’s a time for families to come together to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and regroup for a new beginning. This year, however, it will be bittersweet. Even as large swaths of China turn festive red – the color of the Spring Festival – it’s difficult to overlook the white, the sign of a bereaved household.

Some families are eager to gather around the table as they always have, while others are unable to celebrate due to the loss of a loved one or the care of a sick relative. Then there are those who are happy, but with a heavy heart, because they are well aware of the empty seats.

Melody Liu, who lives in Beijing, recently lost her grandfather, just weeks before the Spring Festival.

She describes the time as chaotic. For several days, the family was unable to locate an intensive care bed. Then, because crematoria and funeral homes were at capacity, they had to pull strings to find him a final resting place.

Melody and her family are not in the mood to celebrate the holiday this year, but she says they will meet anyway because her 90-year-old grandmother is unaware of her grandfather’s death.

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