Chinese Festivals


Traditional Chinese Festivals Based on lunar calendar, traditional Chinese festivals are an important part of traditional Chinese culture. Most traditional festivals took shape during the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206 BC), the first unified and centralized feudal dynasty in Chinese history. By the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220AD), China had experienced a great development period and major traditional festivals were fixed. In the most prosperous Tang Dynasty (618AD-907AD), traditional festivals liberated themselves from primitive sacrifice and became celebrations.
China is a multi-nationality country so different ethnic groups also have their own festivals). The most popular festivals in China are the Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival), the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid- Autumn Festival and etc.
The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, which is most important festival in China. It falls on the 1st day of first Chinese lunar month (in the late January or early February). The historical reason for Chinese Spring Festival is that it is the time for the people to take a rest and celebrate after one year’s hard work. There was also a legendary story about Chinese Spring Festival. A monster called “Nian” preyed on people at the end of every year. People gathered to discuss how to deal with him. Some people suggested that the demon was afraid of the color red, fire and bamboo cracking noise. So they put red paper on their gates, set off firecrackers and beat gongs to drive “Nian” away. That really worked and “Nian” fled away. The custom of celebrating the Spring Festival was passed down.
Strictly speaking, the Spring Festival starts every year in the early days of the 12th lunar month and will last till the mid 1st lunar month of the next year. Of them, the most important days are Spring Festival Eve and the first three days of the New Year.
On the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, many families make laba porridge, a kind of delicious porridge made with glutinous rice, millet, jujube, lotus seeds, beans, longan and gingko.
The 23rd day of the 12th lunar month is called Xiaonian. At this time, people offer sacrifice to the kitchen god. After the Xiaonian, people begin preparing for the coming New Year. This is called "Seeing the New Year in".
Then people decorated and cleaned their houses before the New Year's day that would add a jubilant atmosphere. All the door panels will be pasted with Spring Festival couplets (Chinese calligraphy with black characters on red paper). The content varies from house owners' wishes for a bright future to good luck for the New Year. Also, pictures of the god of door and wealth will be posted on front doors to ward off evil spirits and welcome peace and good luck.
The Chinese character "fu" (meaning blessing or happiness) is a must. The character put on paper can be pasted normally or upside down, for in Chinese the "reversed fu" is homophonic with "fu comes", both being pronounced as "fudaole." What's more, two big red lanterns can be raised on both sides of the front door. Red paper-cuttings can be seen on windowpanes and brightly colored New Year paintings with auspicious meanings may be put on the wall.
The time before the Chinese New Year is also a good occasion to clear old debts. Traditionally, Chinese believed in self-sufficiency. Owing debts to others was a disgrace, a notion unthinkable to people in the modern world where credit is the common practice today. As the New Year set in, owners of businesses and individuals would start to settle their account and get ready to pay back their creditors as much as possible if not in full.
People attach make dumplings for New Year's eve dinnergreat importance to Spring Festival Eve. At that time, all family members have dinner together. The meal is more luxurious than usual. Dishes such as chicken, fish and bean curd cannot be excluded, for in Chinese, their pronunciations, respectively "ji", "yu" and "doufu," mean auspiciousness, abundance and richness. After the dinner, the whole family will sit together, chatting, playing cards or watching TV. In recent years, the Spring Festival Party Program on China Central Television Station (CCTV) is essential entertainment for the Chinese both at home and abroad. According to custom, each family will stay up to see the New Year in.
Waking up on New Year, everybody dresses up. First they extend greetings to their parents. Then each child will get money as a New Year gift, wrapped up in red paper. People in northern China will eat jiaozi, or dumplings, for breakfast, as they think "jiaozi" in sound means "bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new". Also, the shape of the dumpling is like gold ingot from ancient China. So people eat them and wish for money and treasure.
Southern Chinese eat niangao (New Year cake made of glutinous rice flour) on this occasion, because as a homophone, niangao means "higher and higher with one year after another." The first five days after the Spring Festival are a good time for relatives, friends, and classmates as well as colleagues to exchange greetings, gifts and chat leisurely.
Burning fireworks was once the most typical custom on the Spring Festival. People thought the spluttering sound could help drive away evil spirits. However, such an activity was completely or partially forbidden in big cities once the government took security, noise and pollution factors into consideration. As a replacement, some buy tapes with firecracker sounds to listen to, some break little balloons to get the sound too, while others buy firecracker handicrafts to hang in the living room.
The lively atmosphere not only fills every household, but also permeates to streets and lanes. A series of activities such as lion dancing, dragon lantern dancing and temple fairs will be held for days. The Spring Festival then comes to an end when the Lantern Festival is finished.
China has 56 ethnic groups. Minorities celebrate their Spring Festival almost the same day as the Han people, but they have different customs.
Chinese Lantern Festival falls in the night of the 15th day of the 1st lunar month. The first lunar month is called Yuan month and people called night Xiao in the ancient time. latern festivalThus the Lantern Festival is also called Yuanxiao Festival. On the lantern Festival people could enjoy the full moon first time after the New Year Festival. It is also the mark of the end of the Chinese Spring Festival.
Till today, the lantern festival is still held each year around the country. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, attracting countless visitors. Children will hold self-made or bought lanterns to stroll with on the streets, extremely excited.
"Guessing lantern riddles" is an essential part of the Festival. Lantern owners write riddles on a piece of paper and post them on the lanterns. If visitors have solutions to the riddles, they can pull the paper out and go to the lantern owners to check their answer. If they are right, they will get a little gift. The activity emerged during people's enjoyment of lanterns in the Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD). As riddle guessing is interesting and full of wisdom, it has become popular among all social strata.
In the daytime of the Festival, performances such as a dragon lantern dance, a lion dance, a land boat dance, a yangge dance, walking on stilts and beating drums while dancing will be staged. On the night, except for magnificent lanterns, fireworks form a beautiful scene. Most families spare some fireworks from the Spring Festival and let them off in the Lantern Festival. Some local governments will even organize a fireworks party. On the nightyuanxiao, tangyuan people would enjoy the full moon and set fireworks. Lantern Festival is also Chinese Valentine’s Day. In the past, it was the only day of the year that single women could go out and meet their lovers. Now, many young people gather at the festival and have romantic parties.
People will eat “yuanxiao”, or rice dumplings, on this day, so it is also called the "Yuanxiao” Festival. "Yuanxiao” also has another name, “tangyuan”. It is small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour with sesame, bean paste, jujube paste, walnut meat, dried fruit, sugar and edible oil as filling. Tangyuan can be boiled, fried or steamed. It tastes sweet and delicious. What's more, “tangyuan” in Chinese has a similar pronunciation with "tuanyuan”, meaning reunion. So people eat them to denote union, harmony and happiness for the family.
The Qingming (Pure Brightness) Festival is one of the 24 seasonal division points in China, falling on April 4-6 each year. After the festival, the temperature will rise up and rainfall increases. It is the high time for spring plowing and sowing. But the Qingming Festival is not only a seasonal point to guide farm work; it is more a festival of commemoration. The Qingming Festival sees a combination of sadness and happiness. This is the most important day of sacrifice. Both the Han and minority ethnic groups at this time offer sacrifices to their ancestors and sweep the tombs of the diseased. Also, they will not cook on this day and only cold food is served. The Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival was usually one day before the Qingming Festival. As our ancestors often extended the day to the Qingming, they were later combined. On each Qingming Festival, all cemeteries are crowded with people who came to sweep tombs and offer sacrifices. Traffic on the way to the cemeteries becomes extremely jammed. The customs have been greatly simplified today. After slightly sweeping the tombs, people offer food, flowers and favorites of the dead, then burn incense and paper money and bow before the memorial tablet. In contrast to the sadness of the tomb sweepers, people also enjoy sweep tombshope of spring on this day. The Qingming Festival is a time when the sun shines brightly, the trees and grass become green and nature is again lively. Since ancient times, people have.
Followed the custom of spring outings at this time tourists are everywhere.
People love to fly kites during the Qingming Festival. Kite flying is actually not limited to the Qingming Festival. Its uniqueness lies in that people fly kites not during the day, but also at night. A string of little lanterns tied onto the kite or the thread look like shining stars, and therefore, are called "god's lanterns." The Qingming Festival is also a time to plant trees, for the survival rate of saplings is high and trees grow fast later. In the past, the Qingming Festival was called "Arbor Day". But since 1979, "Arbor Day" was settled as March 12 according to the Gregorian calendar.
Duanwu Festival,Chinese Dragon Boat Festival with a history over 2,000 years, it falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. Usually it is in June in the Gregorian calendar.There are many legend stories about the Dragon Boat Festival, the most popular of which is in commemoration of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), who was minister of the State of Chu and one patriotic poet. He submitted the King his suggestions of political reforms to protect the country. But the King thought he was a traitor. He was also excluded by his colleague due to his upright characters. He was exiled by the King Chuhuai. On the way he still worried about his country and people. When he learnt that his country was occupied by State Qin. He was so miserable and plunged himself into the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. After his death, the people of Chu gathered on the bank of the river to pay their respects to him. The fishermen sailed boat up and down the river to look for his body. People threw zongzi (pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves) and eggs into the water to feed fish and shrimps in case his corpse was eaten.
Dragon boat racing is an indispensable part of the festival, held all over the country. Folk tales say the game originates from the activities of seeking Qu Yuan's body. But experts believe that dragon boat racing is a semi-religious, semi-entertaining program from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). In the following thousands of years, the game spread to a lot of Asian countries. Now dragon boat racing has developed into a popular aquatic sport item, which features both Chinese tradition and modern sporting spirit.
Traditionally before the race started, a ritual called awakening the Dragon was performed. A Taoist priest touched the Dragon's eyes, called eye dotting, in order to wake it up. After the race, a similar ceremony was required to put it back to sleep again.
The multi-colored boats are decorated with fearful looking head of dragon. The whole boat could measure up to 30 meters in length. The crew consisted of 10-22 paddlers, a leader, a steersman, a drummer, a flag waver and a hand clapper. The drummer and hand clapper set the pace.
When starting accompanied by rhythm of drums racers in dragon-shaped canoes pull the oars as one man and at full tilt toward their destination.
Zongzi is a popular food on the Dragon Boat Festival. It is said that people ate them in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). In early times, it was only glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in reed or other plant leaves and tied with thread, but now the fillings are more diversified, including jujube and bean paste, fresh meat, and ham and egg yolk.
On Dragon Boat Festival, parents also need to dress their children up with a perfume pouch. They sewdragon boat racing little bags with colorful silk cloth and fill the bags with perfumes or herbal medicine, and finally string them with silk threads. The perfume pouch will be hung around the neck or tied to the front of a garment as an ornament. People hang moxa on the front door and they also drink realgar wine in order to keep evil spirits away.
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also called the Moon Festival, is on the 15th of the 8th lunar month. At this time, the moon's orbit is at its lowest angle to the horizon, making the moon appear brighter and larger than any other time of the year. In the Western tradition, it is also called the Hunter's Moon or Harvest Moon. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, it is also the exact middle of autumn. To the Chinese, this festival is similar to the American Thanksgiving holiday, celebrating a bountiful harvest. Compared to many Chinese festivals that are inundated with vibrant colors and sounds, the Mid-Autumn festival remains mild.
The festival has a long history. In ancient China, emperors followed the rite of offering sacrifices to the sun in spring and to the moon in autumn. Historical books of the Zhou Dynasty had had the word "Mid-Autumn". Later aristocrats and literary figures helped expand the ceremony to common people. They enjoyed the full, bright moon on that day, worshipped it and expressed their thoughts and feelings under it. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Mid-Autumn Festival was fixed which became even grander in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, it became a major festival of China.
Moon's Festival There was also folklore about the origin of the Moon Festival. In the remote age, Hou Yi was a great archer and architect, who shot down nine extra suns that had suddenly appeared in the sky and thus kept the earth from being scorched. He also built a palace of jade for the Goddess of the Western Heaven. For this, he was rewarded with elixir of immortality. His wife called Chang E who was extremely beautiful. Out of her curiosity, she swallowed the pills and in no time soared to the moon and became a permanent resident there. Later people began to worship Chang E in the full moon night.
To eat moon cakes is ubiquitous on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Moon cakes are stuffed with a wide variety of fillings. Egg yolk, lotus seed paste, red bean paste, almonds, pineapple, and coconut are common, but walnuts, dates, and other fillings can be found as well. Most have characters for longevity or harmony inscribed on the top. Special cakes can reach almost onemoon cake foot in diameter. The moon cakes are round and they also stand for harmony, peace and union.
There was a historical anecdote of eating moon cakes. The Mongol Hordes of Genghis Khan subjugated the Chinese, and established the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th Century. However, many Chinese resented the fact that they were ruled by a foreign regime. In the 14th Century, Zhu Yuanzhang organized uprising army to overthrow the Yuan Dynasty. He once used moon cakes to hide and pass the military message. Later he became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Moon cake of course, became even more famous. Whether this sweet Chinese version of ancient Europe's "Trojan Horse" story is true, no one really knows.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is the important occasion for the family reunion. Adults will usually indulge in fragrant moon cakes of many varieties with a cup of tea or wine. while the children run around with their brightly lit lanterns. After nightfall, entire families go out under the stars for a walk or picnics, gazing at the full silver moon, thinking of their nearby relatives or friends, as well as those who are far from home. A line from a verse "The moon at the home village is exceptionally brighter" expresses those feelings. It is also a romantic night for the lovers, who sit holding hands on riverbanks and park benches, enraptured by the brightest moon of the year.

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