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Traditional festivals of China and brief introductions

Last updated by peggie at 2014/11/23

Traditional festivals of China and brief introductions

Traditional festivals of China are colorful and rich in content. This is an important part of Chinese culture.

The forming process of traditional festival is an evaluation process of a nation and a growing process of traditional cultures. The festivals list below are all develop from ancient times. From these festivals, the life styles of ancient Chinese can be seen clearly.

The forming and evaluation process of traditional festival are very slow, and they go into people’s life slowly as well. Festivals are products of human society. The old festivals in China can be dated back to very long ago.

Solar terms provided premise condition for the festivals. Most traditional festivals had appeared before Qin Dynasty, but they evaluated slowly in the later times. The earliest festival related with primitive worshipping. Tales added romances to the festivals. Religion influenced festivals greatly. Famous people went into festivals as well. These factors made Chinese traditional festivals seems more attractive.

In Han Dynasty, most festivals had basically formed. People often say these festivals formed in Han Dynasty. It is not true. Han Dynasty is a good period in Chinese history. Politics was steady and economy was prosperous in Han Dynasty, These conditions supplied a very advantageous presupposition for the forming of festivals.

To Tang Dynasty, festivals had been liberated from the mysterious atmosphere of primitive worshipping. Since that, festivals became happy and colorful. People enjoyed themselves on these festivals.

What we have to mention is that, poets have written lots of good poems on the festivals in history. These poems are appreciated by all the Chinese. And because of these countless poems, Chinese festivals seem very elegant.

Traditional festivals are precious treasure in Chinese culture. We should pay much attention to protect them.  

Relax yourself with a Yangtze River Cruise


1.1 Spring Festival

Spring Festival is on January, 1st, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. It is usually called as Yinlinian. This is the most important festival in China. It origins from Yin Dynasty and Shang Dynasty.

When Spring Festival comes, spring comes as well. Everything comes to life and plants are prosperous. Just having experienced a cold winter, people are so excited to welcome a new spring.

Spring Festival is a happy festival. No matter how far people stay away, they are eager to go home and stay together with their families on this special festival.

The warm atmosphere is not only in the houses, but also in the streets. In many places, lion dances and dragon lantern show are performed during Spring Festival. In some places, people kept the customs of Shehuo performance, visiting flower market, going to the temple fair. During this period, the cities are full of lanterns and the streets are crowded with people. Activities last to the 15th of January, this can be an end of Spring Festival.

Spring Festival is the most important festival for Han Nationality, but some ethnic nationalities also celebrate Spring Festival. They are Man Nationality, Mongol Nationality, Yao Nationality, Zhuang Nationality, Gaoshan Nationality, Bai Nationality, Hezhe Nationality, Hani Nationality, Dawoer Nationality, Dong Nationality, Li Nationality and some other nationalities.

(2) Customs of Spring Festival

Spring Festival is a very old festival in China, and it is also the most important festival to all the Chinese. There are many customs about Spring Festival, and some are still popular.

(1)   Sweeping

Sweeping in Spring Festival is a very old custom. It started from the time of Yao and Shun. It is said that dust has the same pronunciation with old in Chinese language. So sweeping the dust means to ring out the old year and ring in the new. When Spring Festival comes, people sweep the floor, wash the daily things, clean the spider webs and dredge the ditches. People do all these things happily, in the hope of a good coming year.  

(2) Sticking the Spring Festival couplets

Spring Festival couplets is a special type of literature in China. On the Spring Festival couplets, times backgrounds are described and good wishes are represented. No matter in urban or rural places, people choose a pair of good Spring Festival couplets to stick on their doors. This adds much happy atmosphere to the traditional Spring Festival.

(3) New Year picture   

Sticking New Year picture is also a common custom in China. The colorful New Year picture adds more happy atmosphere to the new year. New Year picture is an old art form of China. It presents the believes and hopes of Chinese people.

(4) Sticking window decoration paper-cut and Upside down Fu

People like sticking beautiful window decoration paper-cuts on the widows during festivals. Window decoration paper-cut is a traditional art form in China. The exaggerate window decoration paper-cut represents the good wishes to the coming year and it decorates Spring Festival quite nice.

When sticking the window decoration paper-cuts, people stick Fu (a Chinese character) on the door as well. This is an old tradition in China. Fu means good luck and fortune in Chinese, so the action of sticking Fu expresses people’s good wishes. Some people like sticking the Fu on its head. In Chinese, standing upside down is dao, and dao has the same pronunciation of come. Sticking the Fu on its head means the good luck and fortune come. This shows the hopes to the coming year.

(1)    Shousui

Shousui means to stay up late or all night on New Year's Eve. After the great dinner on the New Year’s Eve, families sit together and chat with the lanterns lighting on to wait for the New Year’s coming. They believe that all the bad luck and diseases are scared and drove away by the lighting lanterns, the good luck will come into their house as well.

(2)    Firecrackers

On the morning of first day of New Year, the first thing people do in light the firecrackers. The sounds of firecrackers add much happy atmosphere to the Spring Festival. People believe that the great sounds of firecrackers can drive the bad luck away and welcome the good luck in the New Year. This tradition has lasting for more than 2,000 years in China. The amplification of fireworks is getting wider and wider now. People burn it in important festivals or events, such as wedding, house building or bossiness opening. The varieties of fireworks and firecrackers now are very rich, there are many famous places of firecrackers and fireworks production in China, such as Liuyang in Hunan Province, Foshan and Dongrao in Guangdong Province, Yichuna and Pingxiang in Jiangxi Province, Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province and so on. Firecrackers and fireworks producted in these places are famous for the high-quality and various kinds. They sell very well in China, and some are exported to many countries and areas, 

(3)    Bainian

Bainian means to pay someone a courtesy call on New Year's Day or shortly thereafter, usually with a present. On the first day of New Year, people get up very early and dress themselves well. They are going to visit their relatives and friends. There are many manners of Bainian. People may visit door by door with their clan elder. Some invite their good friends to visit other friends. And some get together and Bainian to each other. This is called Tuanbai. Because visiting relatives and friends at their own houses spends a lot of time, some people with higher position sent a card to express their good wishes. This kind of cards is the ancestor of New Year’s postcard nowadays and this tradition handed down.

When the Bainian starts, the junior generation should bainian to the senior firstly and wish them healthy and long live. Then the senior people give the prepared money to the junior ones. This kind of money is called as Yasuiqian. Because the pronunciation of sui is the same as that of evil in Chinese, yasui means to suppress the evils. It is said that the junior one who has got the Yasuiqian can pass the New Year smoothly.      


(4)    Food during Spring Festival

In ancient times, after the 8th day of Layue(an alternate name for the last Moon of the lunar calendar), housewives started to work on the food used during Spring Festival. Because the pickles need more time to prepare, so women should do it early. In many places people like to prepare pickles in winter and the most famous may be the pickles in Guangdong Province.

Steamed Niangao. Niangao is a pastry made of the flour of glutinous rice and used primarily in the lunar New Year period. Because niangao has the same pronunciation as the expression of getting higher position in Chinese, and niangao is very tasty, every family prepares it in Spring Festival. The shape of niangao may be square and the color may be yellow and white. They symbolize gold and silver. By eating niangao, people wish a rich new year comes. 

On the New Year Eve, no matter how far it is, people try their best to come back home to stay together with their families. They make jiaozi(dumplings) together. Jiaozi is a symbol of staying together.             

1.2 Lantern Festival

(1) Brief introduction to Lantern Festival

The 15th of January according to the lunar Chinese calendar is Lantern Festival.

The night of 15th of January according to the lunar Chinese calendar is the first full-moon night in the New Year. People treat it as a symbol of New Year and celebrate on that day. They appreciate the bright moon, appreciate the beautiful lanterns, burn fireworks, guess lantern riddles and eat yuanxiao(stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice flour served in soup) together.

(2) Customs of Lantern Festival  

A. Eat Yuanxiao

Eatin Yuanxiao is the long lasted tradition in China. Yuanxiao is also called as Tangyuan in some places. It is a kind of stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice flour served in soup. Suger, rose, sesames, bean paste, walnut kernel, jujube powder can be stuffed in Yuanxiao. Yuanxiao is also a symbol of staying together.

B. Lanterns seeing

In the years of Yongle(58A.D to 75), Han Dynasty, Ming Emperor promoted Buddhism highly. A famous monk named Cai Yin came back from India. He told Ming Emperor that monks in India get together and look the Buddhist bones with reverence on 15th of January. Ming Emperor ordered to light lanterns in the court and temples on 15th of January according to the Chinese lunar calendar. He did this to show his sincerity to the Buddhist and this deeds spread to the folk places. From that time on, people light lanterns in the night of 15th of January according to the Chinese lunar calendar to celebrate the Lantern Festival.

Guessing lantern riddles is a popular activity added during the Lantern Festival. It appeared in the Song Dynasty. In the very beginning, some people wrote riddles on the lantern and people guess them. Because the lantern riddles are good for brain exercising and it is very interesting, this activity formally formed in Southern Song Dynasty.    

1.3Pure and Brightness Festival

(1) Brief introductions to Pure and Brightness Festival

Qingming(Pure and Brightness) is one of the 24 solar terms in China. Because the 24 solar terms represent the climate changes in a year, peasants arrange their faming activities according to them.

Pure and Brightness Festival is a traditional festival and the most important sacrificing and Saomu (to commemorate a dead person at his grave) day to the ancestors in China.Han Nationality and some other ethnic nationalities saomu at that day.

According to the old customs, people should take wine, food, fruits and zhiqian (paper made to resemble money and burned as an offering to the dead) to the graves. The food, fruits and wine should be placed before the grave and zhiqian should be burned at the grave. People add some fresh soil to the grave and put some tender tree branches on it. Then the food can be eaten before people go back.

Pure and Brightness Festival is usually in the period of 4th to 6th of lunar calendar. It is a good time for traveling in the open air because plants turn green at this period. So ancient Chinese liked going around and doing some sports outside.

Even in nowadays, Pure and Brightness Festival is popular.

(2)   Customs of Pure and Brightness Festival

Customs of Pure and Brightness Festival are very colorful and interesting. Activities in this festival are mainly as follow: saomu(to commemorate a dead person at his grave), taqing (spring trip), swing, cuju(the ancient football game in China), polo playing and so on. It is said that because on the Pure and Brightness Festival, people have some cold food. In order to prevent from catching cold, they do some sports. This is why these activities passed down.       

A. Swing

This is an old activity in ancient China. Swinging is good for people’s health and it is very helpful to nurturing the courage. Swinging is still very popular in China today.

B. Taqing

Taqing is also called as Spring Trip or Tanchu, Xunchun in the ancient. During the time of Pure and Brightness Festival, everything comes to life and plants turn green. This is a good chance to go out. Even in nowadays, taqing is very popular in China.

C. Trees planting

From long time ago, people like planting trees during Pure and Brightness Festival. In 1979, the day of 12th of March was ascertained s Tress Planting Day.

D. Kites Flying

Kites flying is also a popular activity in Pure and Brightness Festival. People fly the kites day and night. Small lanterns can be tied under the kite or on the string. In the dark sky, the colorful lanterns seem very beautiful.     

1.4 Dragon boat Festival

(1) Brief introduction to Dragon boat Festival

May the 5th is the traditional Dragon boat Festival in China. This festival has lasting for more than 2,000 years. Because the area is wide and there are many nationalities in China, the tradition on Dragon boat Festival are different from place to place. The main activities held on Dragon boat Festival are as follows: daughters come back to their home, hanging the portrait of Zhongkui(a man who is good at catching ghosts), welcoming the ghost boat, hanging up the calamus and Chinese mugwort, dragon boat racing, competition in martial skills, swinging, drinking realgar wine or calamus wine, eating the wudu pie, salted eggs, zongzi(pyramid-shaped mass of glutinous rice wrapped in leaves) and fresh vegetables. Some of the activities have been to abroad and developed well. For example, dragon boat racing has been an international game.  

(2) Customs of Dragon boat Festival

A. Dragon boat racing

Dragon boat racing is a main activity in the Dragon boat Festival. It is said that in the ancient, a famous minister named Qu Yuan suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. People felt very sorry about his death and they rowed their boats to rescue him. They tried their best to catch up with him, but when they got Dongting Lake, Qu Yuan’s body could not be found any more. This is said to be the going of Dragon boat racing.

In different places, the tales about dragon bout racing is different. Even in nowadays, dragon boating is still very popular in the areas near to rivers, lakes or seas.

B. Eating zongzi

Zongzi is a kind of pyramid-shaped mass of glutinous rice wrapped in leaves. It is also called as jiaoshu or tongshu. Eating zongzi on Dragon boat Festival is an old tradition in China.

Nowadays, every Chinese family makes zongzi on the Dragon boat Festival. There are many kinds of zongzi, such as the jujube zongzi, ham zongzi, bean paste zongzi, pork zongzi and so on. The most outstanding representative is the zongzi in Jiaxing of Zhejiang Province. Zongzi is not only popular in China, it has been spread to Korea, Japan and some other countries in Southeast Asia.

C. Hanging calamus and Chinese mugwort

Hanging calamus and Chinese mugwort is an important activity on Dragon Boat Festival. Even in today, Chinese family do this to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival.

1.5 Qixi Festival

In the night of July the 7th according to the lunar calendar, climate is pleasant and plants smell good. This is the most romantic festival in China.

In the clean sky of late summer, the Milky Way is so bright. On the both sides of the Milky Way, there are two stars. They are Altair and Vega.

Sitting and looking at the two beautiful stars of Altair and Vega is an old tradition in China. In the Chinese tale, there had been a fairy named Zhinv, she was separated from her deeply loved husband Niulang, but on Qixi Festival, they are permitted to meet each other. Because Zhinv is a beautiful and kind fairy, Chinese women beg wisdom, skill and perfect love from her. So the Qixi Festival is also called as Qiqiao(beg wisdom and skill) Festival.

It is said that on the night of Qixi, Zhinv and Niulang can be seen in the sky, and their conversation can be heard if you stand under the fruit shelf.

Girls place fresh fruits in the yard and pray to Zhinv, hoping the beautiful and kind-hearted fairy can give them wisdom and skilful needlework. What they desire most is perfect love. For the females, the most important thing maybe their love story and marriage. So, on the night of Qixi Festival, countless young people pray to the fairy Zhinv for a beautiful love.

Qixi Festival is Chinese Valentine’s Day.     

1.6 Mid-autumn Festival

(1) Brief introduction to Mid-autumn Festival

August the 15th according to the lunar calendar is the traditional Mid-autumn Festival in China. Because this festival is in the middle of autumn, people call it as Mid-autumn Festival. On the night of Mid-autumn Festival, looking at the bright full-moon, people stay far away from home miss their families very much. Mid-autumn Festival is a festival on which families should stay together.

It is said that there had been an ugly girl in Qi (an ancient nation in China) named Wuyan. She had worshipped the moon when she was very young. She was selected into the palace because of her outstanding morality when she grew up, but the emperor did not show special favor to her. On a night of August the 15th, the emperor of Qi met her in the moon light. He found Wuyan was such a beautiful girl and he fell in love with her immediately. After that, Wuyan became the queen of Qi. Since that, the tradition of worshipping the moon formed. Young ladies worship the moon for another reason. In Chinese tale, there is a beauty named Chang’e lives in the moon. Girls hope they can be as beautiful as Chang’e.

There are many traditions and activities on Mid-autumn Festival. People express their missing to the families.

(2) Customs of Mid-autumn Festival

The main activities in Mid-autumn Festival are appreciating the moon and eating moon cakes. 

A. Moon appreciating

The tradition of moon appreciating has been lasting since long long ago. In the Zhou Dynasty, people had ceremonies to welcome the full moon, and they place a big table in the yard, on this table, moon cakes, watermelons, apricots, apples, grapes and some other fresh fruits are prepared. In Tang Dynasty, the tradition of moon appreciating was very popular. In Song Dynasty, this tradition became even more popular. After Ming and Qing Dynasty, more customs formed.  

B. Moon cakes eating

No matter in urban or rural of China, people eat moon cakes on Mid-autumn Festival. Eating moon cakes while appreciating the full moon, this is a symbol of families getting together itself.

Hoping being together with families, this is a good wish of Chinese. For this reason, moon cakes become presents nowadays, they represent people’s wishes.        

1.7 Chongyang Festival

September the 9th is the traditional Chongyang Festival in China. Because number 6 was stipulated as a yin number and 9 as a yang number, so the day of September the 9th became Chongyang Festival.(In Chinese language, chong means double) or called as Chongjiu(double nine) Festival. Chinese think Chongyang Festival is a good day, and this festival has been celebrating long long ago.

There are many activities on Chongyang Festival, such as travel outside, climbing hills, appreciating the chrysanthemum, wear cornels, eating chongyang cakes, drinking chrysanthemum wine and so on.

Today’s Chongyang becomes much meaningful. For example, it has been decided as Senior People’s Day. On this day, senior people go out and enjoy themselves very much.

(3)   Customs of Chongyang Festival

A.     Climbing hills

In the ancient, people started to climb hills. There is no rule that hoe high people should get on Chongyang Festival. People may climb hills or high pagodas on that day.

B.     Eating Chongyang cakes

As recorded on the history materials, Chongyang cakes were also called as flower cakes, chrysanthemum cakes, five- color cakes and so on. In nowadays, all the soft cakes eat on Chongyang Festival are all called as Chongyang cakes. 

C.     Appreciating chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine

Chongyang Festival is in the middle of autumn, chrysanthemums bloom, so the appreciating chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine are main activities. Another saying is that there was a very famous poet named Tao Yuanming in Jin Dynasty. He loved appreciating chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine very much, so people learned from him and this tradition passed down. Poets and high-level officers matched the feast with appreciating chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine. By doing this, they felt they are much closer with Tao Yuanming. In the later dynasties, the customs of appreciating chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine were very popular.    

D.     Wearing cornels and chrysanthemum

The custom of wearing cornels and chrysanthemum became very popular in Tang Dynasty. People thought that wearing cornels and chrysanthemum can exorcise evil spirits. They wear cornels and chrysanthemum on the arm, head or in the pocket. 

E. Senior activities

After the establishment of PRC, Chongyang Festival became much meaningful. On that day, senior people go to climb hills or join in the autumn tripping. Theses activities are very good for their health.

1.8 Other important festivals in China

(1) International Working Women’s Day

March.8th was confirmed as the Women’s Day in December of 1949.

Women had made great efforts for this day. They struggled for more than 100 years.  

(2) Arber Day

March, 12th is Arber Day. On this day, people go out and plant trees. This Day was confirmed on the 6th meeting of 5th National People’s Congress Standing Committee with Deng Xiaoping’s suggestion.

(3) International Labor’s Day

May 4th Movement connected Marxism and labor movements tightly.

On May 1st of 1920, commemorating activities were held in Shanghai, Beijing and Gunagzhou. Li Dazhao published an article on the magazine of The Youth. In this article, he introduced the Labor’s Day and how this day be memorized in America and France.

May 1st was confirmed as Labor’s Day in China in September of 1949.

(4) International Nurses’ Day

May 12th is the common day of all the nurses in the world.

(5) Children’s Day    

In August of 1925, representatives from 54 countries gathered in Genevese and published a pronunciamento to protect children’s rights. After this conference, Children’s Day was confirmed in many countries. On December 23rd   of 1949, June 1st was confirmed as Children’s Day in China.

(6) The memorial day of CPC’s birthday

July 1st of 1921 is the birthday of CPC. From July 23rd to 31st of 1921, the first National People’s Congress was held in Shanghai. On this congress, CPC was established.

July 1st was confirmed as the memorial day of CPC’s birthday during the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945).

(7) Army Day

The Chinese People’s Liberation Armey takes August 1st of 1927 as its birthday. After the founding of People’s Republic of China, this day was confirmed as the Armey Day in China.

(8) Teachers’ Day

September 10th is the Teachers’ Day in China. Teachers’ Day is the only professional festival except Nurses’ Day and Reporter’s Day in China.

(9) National Day

October 1st is the National Day in China.

Chiese people won the great victory of liberation with the leadership of CPC. In October 1st of 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong declared the establishment of People’s Republic of China and the first national flag was also raised by him.

October 1st was confirmed as the National Day of China.

National Day is one of the official days in China. On this day, the whole nation celebrates it warmly.

(5)    Reporters’ Day

December 11th was confirmed as the Reporters’ Day in 2000. Reporters’ Day is the only professional days except the Teachers’ Day and Nurses’ Day in China.

Tips:

Golden Weeks

In September of 1999, States Council of China decided that in National Day, Spring Festival and Labor’s Day, people have 7 days off. Since that, holiday economy of the 3 Golden Weeks became a new increasing spot in China. And from that time, Chinese people began to travel in and aboard.   

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