Growing up, my schools always made yearly schedules of which days we’d be off of school for teacher meetings and special events, when Christmas, Easter and summer break started and ended. The most difficult thing about planning our vacations was waiting for my dad to get his chance, in January, to pick his four weeks for the year. Once that was done, my mom wrote could consult it to make travel plans without hesitation.
This kind of situation would almost never happen in China, save for a family that works for international companies and has the kids enrolled in international schools. Even then, it would highly depend on who’s running said company and school.
When I was teaching there were almost always last-minute changes. One year I went back to America during the Chinese New Year. I planned to come back just two days before school started, and I did. I called the school to find out my work schedule and they said that there was still another week of the holiday; something had come up which caused them to change this.
Another example, at the beginning of this semester we were told that exams would be February 2. I have in written in my planner. This past weekend I talked to my son’s music teacher and she told me exams would be February 6 and school would be out around February 13. And once he is actually done for the semester, we have no idea when school starts until the teacher calls us.
Be flexible and go with the flow. You’ll just get frustrated and angry if you don’t.
I do think you’ll find schools in large cities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai) to be a bit different since they’re dealing with more people and from larger areas.
There is an official Chinese holiday schedule that’s put out by the government. You can view it as a neat infographic here. Most companies and schools follow it. The key word being ‘most.’
But back to the public sector. My husband is lucky enough to work in a small hospital where holidays are pretty strictly adhered to. He and his colleagues take turns working on holidays (yes, they just have a bare-bones staff there on holidays), as do employees of other government owned enterprises. A lot of stores and restaurant will be open, taking opportunity of all the people who have extra time and cash.
The Chinese New Year is the exception. During that week, our town is like a ghost-town. Shops used to be closed almost the entire seven days. My first year here, my friend and I went out traveling and returned on New Year’s Eve to find that everything, except KFC, was closed. We’d been gone a week so we’d emptied our fridge and had little to eat at home. A lot of chicken was consumed that week! Now shops and markets are usually closed for at least 2 days and have limited hours on the other days. Restaurants and shops that employ migrant workers close up for as long as a month so they can return home.
Before the New Year, it’s essential to stock up on anything that you’ll need for at least a week. Also be sure to pay your bills since you may or may not be able to pay for electricity when you find it turned off during the holiday. I have run out of electricity before, fortunately not at the holidays.