Chinese Festivals — Celebration, Custom, and Food
Traditional Chinese Festivals are historic and nonreligious and based on the Chinese Calendar.
They originated from ancient sacrifice ceremonies, ancestor worship, agricultural activities, and ancient mythology.
Today, there are ten major traditional festivals that Chinese people widely celebrate. Each has unique customs, holiday food, and a series of activities, some of which vary in different regions.
Chinese New Year the Spring Festival
Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is one of the most important and historical festivals in China, which has been celebrated for more than 4,000 years.
However, in ancient Chinese culture, the beginning of a year was once the Winter Solstice in December.
Afterward, January was established as the beginning of a new year, when the Spring Festival was celebrated.
This biggest holiday in China lasts on the Chinese Calendar from the 1st to the 15th of January.
Preparations Activities for the Chinese New Year
On 23rd or 24th of December in the Chinese Calendar is the day to sacrifice to the Stove Fairy and eat a type of sticky candy.
In ancient Chinese culture, each family had a Stove Fairy who would go to heaven on this day and report everything that happened in this family in the past year.
So, the worship ceremony accompanied by beautiful firecrackers is to see off deities with respect. At the same time, the sticky candy can make them feel sweet and complex to open their mouths to say anything wrong.
On the 24th or 25th of December, is to clean the entire house, while from the 25th to 29th are to prepare or to shop for new clothes and food, get cut hair, etc.
Celebrations and Customs of the Chinese New Year
On the Eve of the Spring Festival, couplets and door gods would be pasted, and a big family dinner will be served. It is still an essential custom in China that people would stay up late until midnight and set off firecrackers.
A ceremony is needed to welcome the Stove Fairy back, but many Chinese people don’t do this much nowadays.
On the 1st day of the Chinese New Year, greetings would be sent to each other. Kids will get gift money from older generations, and people will visit important relatives and have big dinners together. Married couples would be visiting the man’s parents.
On the 2nd day, married couples would visit the woman’s parents and bring gifts, like candy or dessert, and then have dinner with them.
On the 5th or 6th of January, the floor would be swept to send away the God of Poverty, and the market will be opened up. Nowadays, most Chinese people will return to work on this day.
Shang Yuan the Lantern Festival
Lantern Festival (Shang Yuan) is a traditional Chinese Valentine’s Day.
In ancient China, unmarried girls were not allowed to go out freely except for the Lantern Festival. Hence, it is a perfect opportunity for single people to go out and meet up.
Beautiful lanterns, the moon, and fireworks at night together were ideal circumstances for romantic encounters.
This holiday is on the 15th of January in the Chinese Calendar, the first full moon of the new year, when many types of lanterns will be lit to drive away from the darkness and scary animals and to pray for good luck.
Glue puddling/sweet dumpling is the traditional food for this festival, while various activities and performances will be held in different places in China as well.
Qingming Festival the Tomb-sweeping Day
Qingming originated around 2,500 years ago as one of the 24 Solar Terms in the Chinese Traditional Calendar, which is a good time for planting.
In 1935, it was officially decided that the 5th of April of the Gregorian Calendar would be the Tomb-weeping Day. Nowadays, the 4th, 5th, or 6th of April is the Tomb-weeping Day or Qing Ming Festival.
On this day, visiting and cleaning ancestors’ graves and holding memorial ceremonies are necessary customs in Chinese culture.
Another popular activity is to go out or take a trip to enjoy nature since this is the beginning of spring.
Flying kites are favored in some places; some also have night kites (with some colorful small lanterns on the tail).
When the kite is flying in the sky, people would cut the string off and let the kite go, representing that all the bad lucks would be taken away.
Duan Wu the Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival, also named Duan Wu, is on the 5th of May on the Chinese Calendar.
It has been celebrated for over 2,000 years and is considered the beginning of summer in the Chinese Calendar.
This festival has many versions of origin stories and customs in different places in China.
The most common elements of this festival are racing Dragon Boat, eating rice dumplings, and drinking realgar wine.
It is also popular to put five-color strings (red, white, black, yellow, and green) on kids’ wrists, ankles, or necks in the morning.
While putting them on, the kid shouldn’t be talking. It is believed that the strings can protect kids from poisoned animals.
People would then take them off and throw them into rivers when the next rain came, hoping the river could take disease and bad luck away.
Sachets stuffed with various herbs, scented petals, or perfume are another popular ornament to wear or send as gifts.
The pleasant smell and fancy appearance make them popular in China.
They are also distinctive gifts among couples in love. Women would usually make some sachets and give them to their beloved ones.
Qi Xi the Double Seventh Festival
Double Seventh Festival (Qi Xi) is on the 7th of July in the Chinese Calendar.
It originated from a legend around 2,000 years ago, a famous love story in Chinese mythology about Altair and Vega.
Once upon a time, a fairy went to the earth and fell in love with a lovely young man. Soon, they married, had two children, and lived happily ever after.
However, the fairy’s mother found out; she didn’t allow a fairy to marry a human. Soon, she took the fairy back to heaven.
The man got help from his loyal and mysterious friend, then took his children and flew to the sky.
But the fairy’s mother created a celestial river between them, separating the couple in the massive Milky Way.
No matter what happened, the guy had never given up. He and their two kids kept taking the water out of the galaxy, day and night.
After a long time, the fairy’s mother was a little moved and allowed them to meet each other once a year, on the 7th of July in the Chinese Traditional Calendar.
On that day, thousands of magpies will fly there and create a bridge for this beloved couple using their wings.
Afterward, this day became the representative of solid and eternal love.
Since the fairy was excellent at knitting and weaving, many women prayed for good skill, loyal love, and happy marriage at this festival.
Women also would hold knitting and weaving contests, trying to improve their skills and learn from the best.
Zhong Yuan the Ghost Festival
The Ghost Festival, Zhong Yuan, is on the 15th of July on the Chinese Calendar. This is the biggest festival to worship and commemorate the dead in Chinese culture.
According to Chinese mythology, on this day, all the ghosts will be set free into the human world and are allowed to go back to their previous homes or visit people they care about.
Alive people will take this opportunity to worship their ancestors and beloved departed ones.
Big ceremonies would be held in religious places to memorize people sacrificed on the battlefield and those without families.
Water is believed Yin in Chinese culture, connecting the worlds of the alive and the deceased.
So, river lanterns are used today to illuminate the way for ghosts to come home. In addition, people will burn up paper-made money and daily necessities that the spirits in the other world could use.
Zhong Qiu the Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Day (Zhong Qiu) is on the 15th of August in the Chinese Calendar, a festival that connects with the reunion and harvest.
The first record of this festival was around 2,200 to 2,500 years ago, but it was official and widely accepted in China about 1,000 years ago.
Though without a very long history, Mid-Autumn Day is one of the most popular festivals in China now.
Worshiping the moon is the most important ceremony of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Usually, red candles, incense, delicious fruits, and mooncakes are standard necessities for the rite.
Nowadays, enjoying the full moon and eating mooncakes are the most popular parts of this festival.
In a Chinese mythological legend, there is a sweet-scented Osmanthus tree on the moon, the beautiful Fairy Chang E, and her rabbit.
Therefore, People also eat candy and cake and drink wine on this day, all of which are made of sweet-scented Osmanthus.
Chong Yang the Double Ninth Festival
On the 9th of September is the Double Ninth Festival (Chong Yang), which was first popularized among royal families about 2,000 years ago, and then celebrated by everyone 1,000 years later in the history of China.
On this day, people will go climbing and enjoy the view of autumn.
Putting on cornel is also essential, which is believed can protect people from disease and bad luck.
Other activities include appreciating chrysanthemum, drinking chrysanthemum wine, and eating a Double Ninth cake.
Nowadays, it is also a festival for older people to pray for long lives and safety.
Winter Solstice, or Dongzhi, is one of the 24 Solar Terms, usually in mid to late December.
It used to be one of the most important traditional Chinese festivals in history, to hold grand worship ceremonies for heaven, earth, and ancestors and eat feast with families.
A few days after Winter Solstice, on the 8th of the lunar month of December, is the Laba Festival or Laba Rice Porridge Festival, a holiday to pray and celebrate good harvests.
Eating Laba Rice Porridge is the most important custom of the Laba festival, which is made of different types of rice, beans, and nuts, and is both tasty and healthy.
In northern parts of China, people put garlic into vinegar and seal them until the Spring Festival. The vinegar can be eaten with dumplings, and the garlic would be green as jadeite.
These two festivals are usually close, both in the transition period before the Chinese New Year.
Hence, celebrating Dongzhi and Laba means a fresh start, and spring is coming.
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