|Chinese festivals are one of the most important part of Chinese culture.
Understanding Chinese festivals will greatly enhance Chinese learners' knowledge
on Chinese culture and history. Among many Chinese festivals, Spring Festival,
Mid-Autumn Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and Lantern Festival are the four most
famous festivals in Chinese people's lives.
The Spring Festival is the most
important festival for the Chinese people and is when all
family members get together, just like Christmas in the
West. All people living away from home go back, becoming
the busiest time for transportation systems of about half
a month from the Spring Festival. Airports, railway
stations and long-distance bus stations are crowded with
The Spring Festival falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar
month, often one month later than the Gregorian calendar.
It originated in the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC-c. 1100 BC)
from the people's sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the
end of an old year and the beginning of a new one.
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. The Chinese government now stipulates
people have seven days off for the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Many customs accompany the Spring Festival. Some are still
followed today, but others have weakened.
On the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, many families make
laba porridge, a delicious kind of porridge made with
glutinous rice, millet, seeds of Job's tears, jujube
berries, lotus seeds, beans, longan and gingko.
The 23rd day of the 12th lunar month is called Preliminary
Eve. At this time, people offer sacrifice to the kitchen
god. Now however, most families make delicious food to
After the Preliminary Eve, people begin preparing for the
coming New Year. This is called "Seeing the New Year in".
Store owners are busy then as everybody goes out to
purchase necessities for the New Year. Materials not only
include edible oil, rice, flour, chicken, duck, fish and
meat, but also fruit, candies and kinds of nuts. What's
more, various decorations, new clothes and shoes for the
children as well as gifts for the elderly, friends and
relatives, are all on the list of purchasing.
Before the New Year comes, the people completely clean the
indoors and outdoors of their homes as well as their
clothes, bedclothes and all their utensils.
Then people begin decorating their clean rooms featuring
an atmosphere of rejoicing and festivity. All the door
panels will be pasted with Spring Festival couplets,
highlighting 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 doors and wealth will be posted on
front doors to ward off evil spirits and welcome peace and
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
window glass and brightly colored New Year paintings with
auspicious meanings may be put on the wall.
People attach great importance to Spring Festival Eve. At
that time, all family members eat 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 and
watching TV. In recent years, the Spring Festival party
broadcast 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
Southern Chinese eat niangao (New Year cake made of
glutinous rice flour) on this occasion, because as a
homophone, niangao means "higher and higher, 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
permeates to streets and lanes. A series of activities
such as lion dancing, dragon lantern dancing, lantern
festivals 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, and
they have different customs.
Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节)
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th
lunar month, usually in October in Gregorian calendar. It
will fall on September 14, 2008.
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. By the Tang Dynasty
(618-907), the Mid-Autumn Festival had been fixed, which
became even grander in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the
Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, it grew
to be a major festival of China.
Folklore about the origin of the festival go like this: In
remote antiquity, there were ten suns rising in the sky,
which scorched all crops and drove people into dire
poverty. A hero named Hou Yi was much worried about this,
he ascended to the top of the Kunlun Mountain and,
directing his superhuman strength to full extent, drew his
extraordinary bow and shot down the nine superfluous suns
one after another. He also ordered the last sun to rise
and set according to time. For this reason, he was
respected and loved by the people and lots of people of
ideals and integrity came to him to learn martial arts
from him. A person named Peng Meng lurked in them.
Hou Yi had a beautiful and kindhearted wife named Chang E.
One day on his way to the Kunlun Mountain to call on
friends, he ran upon the Empress of Heaven Wangmu who was
passing by. Empress Wangmu presented to him a parcel of
elixir, by taking which, it was said, one would ascend
immediately to heaven and become a celestial being. Hou
Yi, however, hated to part with his wife. So he gave the
elixir to Chang E to treasure for the time being. Chang E
hid the parcel in a treasure box at her dressing table
when, unexpectedly, it was seen by Peng Meng.
One day when Hou Yi led his disciples to go hunting, Peng
Meng, sword in hand, rushed into the inner chamber and
forced Chang E to hand over the elixir. Aware that she was
unable to defeat Peng Meng, Chang E made a prompt decision
at that critical moment. She turned round to open her
treasure box, took up the elixir and swallowed it in one
gulp. As soon as she swallowed the elixir her body floated
off the ground, dashed out of the window and flew towards
heaven. Peng Meng escaped.
When Hou Yi returned home at dark, he knew from the
maidservants what had happened. Overcome with grief, Hou
Yi looked up into the night sky and called out the name of
his beloved wife when, to his surprise, he found that the
moon was especially clear and bight and on it there was a
swaying shadow that was exactly like his wife. He tried
his best to chase after the moon. But as he ran, the moon
retreated; as he withdrew, the moon came back. He could
not get to the moon at all.
Thinking of his wife day and night, Hou Yi then had an
incense table arranged in the back garden that Chang E
loved. Putting on the table sweetmeats and fresh fruits
Chang E enjoyed most, Hou Yi held at a distance a memorial
ceremony for Chang E who was sentimentally attached to him
in the palace of the moon.
When people heard of the story that Chang E had turned
into a celestial being, they arranged the incense table in
the moonlight one after another and prayed kindhearted
Chang E for good fortune and peace. From then on the
custom of worshiping the moon spread among the people.
People in different places follow various customs, but all
show their love and longing for a better life. Today
people will enjoy the full moon and eat moon cakes on that
The moon looks extremely round, big and bright on the 15th
day of each lunar month. People selected the August 15 to
celebrate because it is a season when crops and fruits are
all ripe and weather pleasant. On the Mid-Autumn Festival,
all family members or friends meet outside, putting food
on tables and looking up at the sky while talking about
life. How splendid a moment it is!
Boat Festival (端午节)
The Dragon Boat Festival is a lunar holiday, occurring on
the fifth day of the fifth lunar month
The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is a significant holiday
celebrated in China, and the one with the longest history.
The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated by boat races in
the shape of dragons. Competing teams row their boats
forward to a drumbeat racing to reach the finish end
first. Annual races take place all over China, Hong Kong,
Macao, Taiwan, and other overseas Chinese communities.
The boat races during the Dragon Boat Festival are
traditional customs to attempts to rescue the patriotic
poet Chu Yuan. Chu Yuan drowned on the fifth day of the
fifth lunar month in 277 B.C. Chinese citizens now throw
bamboo leaves filled with cooked rice into the water.
Therefore the fish could eat the rice rather than the
heroic poet. This later on turned into the custom of
eating Zong Zi. Zong Zi is a glutinous rice ball, with a
filling, wrapped in corn leaves. The fillings can be egg,
beans, dates, fruits, sweet potato, walnuts, mushrooms,
meat, or a combination of them. They are generally
The celebration is a time for protection from evil and
disease for the rest of the year. It is done so by
different practices such as hanging healthy herbs on the
front door, drinking nutritious concoctions, and
displaying portraits of evil's nemesis, Zhong Kui. If one
manages to stand an egg on it's end at exactly 12:00 noon,
the following year will be a lucky one.
The Lantern Festival or Yuanxiao Jie is a traditional
Chinese festival, which is on the 15th of the first month
of the Chinese New Year. The festival marks the end of the
celebrations of the Chinese New Year. Chinese started to
celebrate the Lantern Festival from the Han Dynasty (206
BC - 221 AD). Like most other Chinese festivals, there is
also a story behind the Festival. It is also believed that
the festival has Taoist origins. This is a festival for
people having fun. On the night of the festival, people go
on streets with a variety of lanterns under the full moon,
watching lions or dragon dancing, playing Chinese riddles
and games, and lighting up firecrackers. There is really a
lot of fun for the young and the old. Yuanxiao (glutinous
rice ball) or Tangyuan is the special food for the Lantern
Festival. It is believed that Yuanxiao is named after a
palace maid, Yuanxiao, of Emperor Wu Di of the Han
Dynasty. Yuanxiao is a kind of sweet dumpling, which is
made with sticky rice flour filled with sweet stuffing.
Yuanxiao is sticky, sweet and round in shape, symbolizing
family unity, completeness and happiness.
Ming Festival (清明节)
A well-known poem by Tang Dynasty writer Du Mu tells of a
sad scene in early April: "rains fall heavily as Qing Ming
comes, and passers-by with lowered spirits go." Qingming
Day, the traditional tomb-sweeping day, falls on April 4-6
each year. It is a time for remembering loved ones who
have departed. People visit their ancestors' graves to
sweep away the dirt. Its origin dates back to the Spring
and Autumn Period. Jin prince Chong'er ran away from the
country with his supporters due to persecution. They were
homeless for 19 years and things got so bad that Chong'er
began to starve to death. One of the prince's faithful
followers, Jie Zitui, cut a piece of muscle from his own
leg and served it to his master. Chong'er was saved and,
in 636 BC, he took back the throne. He rewarded the
officials who had stayed loyal to him but he forgot about
Jie Zitui. By the time Chong'er remembered him, a
heartbroken Jie Zitui had traveled deep into the
mountains. Chong'er wanted to persuade Jie to come home,
so he had the hills set on fire. But Jie was later found
beside a large tree, with his old mother on his back. Both
were dead. Saddened by the tragedy, Chong'er ordered that
fires could not be lit on the day of Jie Zitui's death.
From this comes Hanshi Day, or Cold Food Day. People
visited Jie Zitui's tomb the next day to pay their
respects. Over time, Hanshi Day was replaced with Qing
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