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 are widely celebrated by Chinese people, and each of them has special customs, holiday food, and a series of activities, and some of them vary in different regions. 

Chinese Lanterns
Hanging Lanterns
 
Lanterns for Spring Festival

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.

 

Around 2100 years ago, Emperor Liu Che held a sacrificial rite on the 1st of January in the Chinese Calendar to pray for well being of his people.

 

Afterward, the month of January was established as the beginning of a new year, when the Spring Festival has been celebrated.

 

This biggest holiday in China lasts from the 1st to the 15th of January on the Chinese Calendar. 

firewor

Preparations Activities for the Chinese New Year

On 23th 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 has a Stove Fairy, who on this day will go to heaven 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, while the sticky candy can make them feel sweet and hard to open their mouths to say anything bad.   

 

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.

chinese new year lanten

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 important custom in China that people would stay up late until 12 o’clock at night and set off firecrackers.

 

A ceremony is needed to welcome the Stove Fairy back, but nowadays many Chinese people don’t do this much. 

 

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 would 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 some gifts, like candy or dessert, and then have dinner with them.

 

On the 5th or 6th of January, the floor would be swept, in order 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. 

Read More About the Chinese New Year and Greetings

 
Beautiful lights for Lantern Festival

Shang Yuan the Lantern Festival

 

Lantern Festival (Shang Yuan) is a traditional Chinese Valentine’s Day.

 

In ancient China, young unmarried girls are 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 consisted of a perfect circumstance for romantic encounters.

This holiday is on the 15th of January of 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. 

Read More About Lantern Festival

 
Qingming Festival

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 the year 1935, it was officially decided that the 5th of April of the Gregorian Calendar will 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, as well as holding some memorial ceremonies are important 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 of them 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.

Read More About Qingming Festival

 
Dragon boat

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 more than 2,000 years and is considered the beginning of summer in the Chinese Calendar.

 

This festival has many versions of origin stories and many customs in different places in China.

The most common elements of this festival are racing Dragon Boat, eating rice dumplings, and drinking realgar wine. 

Rice dumplings and realgar wine for Dragon Boat Festival

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 comes, hoping the river could take disease and bad luck away.

Five color strings for Dragon Boat Festival

Sachets that are stuffed with various types of 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 typical gifts among couples in love. Women usually would make some sachets on their own, and give them to their beloved ones. 

Read More About Dragon Boat Festival

 
Double Seventh Festival

Qi Xi the Double Seventh Festival

 

Double Seventh Festival (Qi Xi) is on the 7th of July of the Chinese Calendar. 

 

It originated from a legend around 2,000 years ago, which is a famous love story in Chinese mythology, about the Altair and Vega.

Once upon a time, a fairy went to the earth and fell in love with a nice young man. Soon, they got 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 some help from his loyal and mysterious friend, then he took his children and flew to the sky. 

But the fairy’s mother created a celestial river between them, which separated the couple apart in the huge 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 of the Chinese Traditional Calendar.

 

On that day, thousands of magpies will fly there and create a bridge using their wings for this beloved couple.

 

Afterward, this day became the representative of strong and eternal love. 

Since the fairy was quite excellent at knitting and weaving, many women then pray for good skill, loyal love, and happy marriage at this festival as well.

 

Women also would hold knitting and weaving contests, trying to improve their skills and learn from the best. 

Read More About Qixi Festival

 
River lanterns on Ghost Festival

Zhong Yuan the Ghost Festival

 

The Ghost Festival, also named 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 to 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 that were sacrificed on the battlefield and those without families.   

Water is believed as Yin in Chinese culture, which connects the worlds of alive and deceased ones.

 

So, river lanterns are used on this day to illuminate the way for ghosts to come home. In addition, people will burn up paper-made money and daily necessities that the ghosts in the other world could use. 

Read More About Ghost Festival

 
Moon on Mid-Autumn Festival

Zhong Qiu the Mid-Autumn Festival

 

The Mid-Autumn Day (Zhong Qiu) is on the 15th of August of the Chinese Calendar, a festival that connects with the reunion and harvest.

 

The first record about 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 and incense, nice fruits, and mooncakes are common necessities for the rite.

mooncake

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, as well as 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. 

Read More About Mid Autumn Festival

 
Flower cake and chrysanthemum wine for Double ninth Festival

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 important, which is believed can protect people from disease and bad luck. 

Other activities include appreciating chrysanthemum, drinking chrysanthemum wine, and eating Double Ninth cake.

 

Nowadays, it is also a festival for older people to pray for long lives and safety.

Read More About Double Ninth Festival

Delicious Laba rice porriage
 

Winter Solstice Festival and Laba Festival — Celebration of Winter and Transition

Winter Solstice or Dongzhi is one of the 24 Solar Terms, which is 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.

dumplig for winter solstice festival

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 would 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, in the transition period before the Chinese New Year. 

Hence, celebrating Dongzhi and Laba means a fresh start, and the spring is coming.