Traditional Festivals

Showcasing diverse styles and themes, traditional Chinese festivals are a significant part of the country’s history and culture. A close relationship exists between many of the traditional festivals, chronology, mathematics, the Chinese calendar and the 24 solar terms.

Showcasing diverse styles and themes, traditional Chinese festivals are a significant part of the country’s history and culture. A close relationship exists between many of the traditional festivals, chronology, mathematics, the Chinese calendar and the 24 solar terms.

Many of the customs connected with the traditional festivals are linked to religious devotions, ancient superstitions and myths. In fact, the format of present-day festivals was established during the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC) and over the years, eminent poets have written countless masterpieces describing the festivals which are still recited today.

Almost every festival has its unique origins and customs which reflect the traditional practices and morality of the Chinese nation and its people overall. The grandest and most popular festivals are the Spring Festival, Lantern Festival, Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and more.

The Chinese Spring Festival, also known as Lunar New Year, has more than 4,000 years of history. As one of the traditional Chinese festivals, it is the grandest and most important festival. It is also a time when families get together to celebrate, a practice similar to Christmas celebration in the West.

Originating during the Shang Dynasty (about 17th – 11th century BC), Spring Festival, is full of rich and colorful activities signifying the arrival of spring and blossoming flowers. People from different regions and different ethnic groups celebrate it in unique ways.

Festival Time

It falls on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar and lasts for almost half of the month. In folk custom, this traditional holiday lasts from the 23rd day of the twelfth month to the 15th day of the first month (Lantern Festival). On these days, New Year’s Eve and the first day of the New Year are the peak times.

History

According to lore, the custom of the Spring Festival began when people offered sacrifices to ancestors in the last month of the Chinese lunar calendar. At the time, people prepared the sacrifice by engaging in thorough cleaning, bathing and other purifications activities.

However, the sacrificial period changed according to the farming schedule and was not fixed until the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). Although the ceremonies are no longer as grand, the practice of worshipping deities and ancestors endures.

Customs and Practices

To prepare for the festival, every family engages in thorough house cleaning and purchases enough food, including fish, meat, roasted nuts and seeds, all kinds of candies and fruits, for the festival period. Additionally, families buy new clothes, especially for young children. Red scrolls with complementary poetic couplets – one line on each side of the gate – are pasted at every gate. The Chinese character ‘Fu’ is pasted on the center of the door and paper-cut pictures adorn windows.

Festival Food

Dumplings at the family reunion dinner are practically indispensable during the festival. Cold and hot dishes are also served. Fish, which is always an important dish because it embodies people’s hope of having a wealthy, prosperous year, is usually served.

Qingming Festival (also known as Pure Brightness Festival or Tomb-Sweeping Day) falls on either April 4th or 5th of the Gregorian calendar, and is one of the Chinese 24 Solar Terms. From that date temperatures begin to rise and rainfall increases, indicating that it is the crucial time for plowing and sowing in the spring. The festival therefore has a close relationship with agriculture. However, it’s not simply a seasonal symbol; it’s also a day of paying respect to the dead and enjoying a spring outing.

Traditional Customs

Qingming Festival involves various activities, including tomb sweeping, a spring outing, and flying kites.  In the past, locals would practice customs such as wearing willow branches on the head and riding on swings as the festival is a combination of celebrating happiness and honoring the departed.

Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second grandest festival after the Spring Festival in China. It gets its name from the fact that it is celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. It’s also known as the Moon Festival, because the moon is roundest and brightest at that time of the year.

In mainland China, locals enjoy a day off for the festival which usually falls on a weekend. In Hong Kong and Macau, people also enjoy one day off, however, it is not scheduled on the festival day but the following day and it is usually not connected with the weekend. In Taiwan, the one day holiday falls on the actual festival.

Customs

On the day of the festival, family members gather to offer sacrifice to the moon, appreciate the bright full moon, eat moon cakes, and express deep yearnings for family members and friends who live afar. In addition, there are other customs like playing lanterns, and in some regions, partaking in dragon and lion dances. The unique customs of ethnic minorities are noteworthy, such as the Mongolians, “chasing the moon” and the Dong people’s  vegetables or fruits.

Falling on the 15th day of the first lunar month, Lantern Festival is the first significant feast after Spring Festival, and is so-called because the most important activity that night is watching beautifully lit Chinese lanterns float into the sky. During the festival, every household eats yuanxiao (rice balls stuffed with different fillings), so it is also called the Yuan Xiao Festival. For its rich, colorful activities, it is regarded as the most recreational of all the Chinese festivals and a day for appreciating the bright full moon and family reunion.

Customs and Activities

With a history of over 2,000 years, various traditional customs and activities are held during Lantern Festival that appeal to people of different ages, including watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles, performing folk dances, and eating yuanxiao (the dumpling ball made out of sticky rice flour stuffed with assorted fillings)

Celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival is one of great significance. It has been held annually for more than 2,000 years and is notable for its educational influence. The festival commemorates the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), and serves as an occasion for Chinese people to strengthen their bodies and dispel diseases. Many legends circulate around the festival but the most popular is the legend of Qu Yuan.

Customs

Many traditional customs and activities are held by Chinese people and by people in neighboring countries, they include: dragon boat racing, eating zongzi (pyramid-shaped glutinous rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves), wearing a perfume pouch, tying five-color silk thread and hanging mugwort leaves and calamus.

Falling on the seventh day of seventh lunar month, the Double Seventh Festival in China is almost equivalent to Valentine’s Day in Western countries. As it’s a day of great importance to girls, the event is also called Young Girls’ Festival. Because of the beautiful legend about Niu Lang and Zhi Nu (the Chinese Romeo and Juliet, respectively), the festival has come to symbolize great romance.

Customs

While the customs of this festival varies according to different regions, the primary objective is the same. The most prevalent custom is that of girls praying to Zhi Nu for skillful hands in sewing. Because Zhi Nu is regarded as a beautiful woman who is deft at weaving, on the eve of the festival, girls sew articles to compete with each other and prepare delicious fruits to worship Zhi Nu in order to be endowed with masterful sewing skills. In addition to praying for sewing skills they also pray to receive a love match.

In the rural areas, people usually perceive the meeting of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu as two stars in the sky. At the same time, older people tell the young about this old love legend. Unfortunately, this is not popular in cities, anymore.

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