Chinese Festivals

Most popular Chinese festivals, related traditions and customs

Chinese Festivals

Festivals are an important part of Chinese history and culture. Most of the traditions related to the celebrations date back to the Han Dynasty (206 - 220BC).

Spring Festival - Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, is the most important traditional festival and public holiday in China. Celebrations start on the first day of the first Chinese month (late January or early February) and last 15 days.
On New Year’s Eve, Chinese families thoroughly clean their houses to symbolize sending off the old year and welcoming the new one, because in Chinese culture dust and dirt represent “old”.
Family dinners are held on New Year's Eve. The buildings are decorated with red lanterns and couplets for the festival because in Chinese culture red represents good fortune and happiness.
People gather at big squares to hear the ringing of a big bell announce the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one. Chinese people believe that the sound of the bell drives bad luck away.
Fireworks are another part of the celebration. Even though they are banned in the bigger cities, smaller towns and villages still hold on to this tradition.
On the first day of the Spring Festival people wear new clothes and greet relatives and friends. Younger generations visit the elders and wish them health, prosperity and long life. Parents and elders give children “lucky money” in red envelopes for good luck.
During the days of the Spring Festival, dragon and lion dances, as well as other traditional performances are a common sight on the streets.

The Lantern Festival

The Lantern Festival is the last day of the New Year celebrations marking the first full moon of the year. Its other names are Yuanxiao or Shangyuan Festival.
People hang lanterns of different shapes and sizes in the streets. Children make or buy lanterns and parade with them at night. During the daytime, dragon lantern dances, land boat dances, walking and dancing on stilts can be seen in numerous locations.
Guessing “Lantern riddles” is another popular custom. People write riddles on a piece of paper and put them on their lanterns. If anyone knows the answer, they take the paper and go to the lantern owner to check their answer. If it is correct, they get a small gift.
Eating rice balls with different fillings called yuan-xiao on this day is a custom which originated around the 4th century.

Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival is a lunar holiday, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (late May, or early June).
People have races in boats shaped like dragons. The races are an “attempt” to save poet Chu Yuan (340 - 277BC), who killed himself by tying a rock to his body and jumping in the river. People throw bamboo leaves filled with cooked rice in the waters to lure fishes away from the body of the poet.
This ritual created the custom of eating tzungtzu- rice dumplings with meat, peanut and other fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves during the dragon Boat Festival.
The fifth lunar month is known as “Poison month”, so several rituals of the festival are related to chasing away evil and diseases. People hang herbs on their doors and windows to drive infectious insects away.They drink nutritious potions, wear perfumed medical bags around their necks and write spells to chase illness away.
Another tradition of the festival is the Standing Egg. People believe that they will be lucky during the year if they can make an egg stand at noon on Dragon Boat Day.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Also called Moon festival, this celebration is probably the second most anticipated next to the Spring Festival.
It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar - between September and early October of the Gregorian calendar.
There are various theories about the origin of this holiday. Some are related to the legend of Chang E. Most people believe it was a way to celebrate the end of the fall harvest in agricultural China.

The most popular customs on this day include eating moon cakes. Moon cakes are round cookies with various fillings. On their surface there are different artistic patterns illustrating the story of Chang E flying to the moon. In different regions moon cakes have different flavors.

The round shape of the moon cake symbolizes family reunion. Today people give moon cakes to their relatives and friends as a wish for a long and happy life.

Further reading

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