Chinese Traditional Festivals
China, a large country with 1.3 billion people boasts a 5,000-year history and glorious culture. Thus the Chinese festivals are old and numerous, embodying Chinese culture and greatly enriching people's lives. The Chinese observe a wide variety of traditional festivals based on the lunar calendar, which was set by a lunar cycle - dates following the regular appearance of the full moon.
Almost every traditional festival has its own unique origins and customs which reflect the traditional practices and morality of the whole Chinese nation and its people. All these festivals include common elements such as a desire for happiness and well-being, the warding off of misfortune, experiencing a connection between man and heaven, and family reunion. And, of course, festivals are an opportunity for celebration and relaxation.
The grandest and most celebrated festivals in China are the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, the Tomb Sweeping Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Double Seventh Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Double Ninth Festival, and the Winter Solstice.
The Spring Festival
Also known as the Chinese New Year, it is the most important festival for the Chinese people when all family members get together, just like Christmas in the West. 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. A lot of dining and wining take place during the festival. Firecrackers are set off everywhere, though for safety and noise concerns it is banned in some cities. Dragon and lion dances are performed from the busiest cities to the most remote villages.
The Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, usually in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), it had become a festival with great significance. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, attracting countless visitors. Children will hold self-made or bought lanterns to stroll with on the streets; extremely excited. It is also a time to eat glutinous rice dumplings which symbolize family unity.
The Tomb Sweeping Festival
One of the 24 seasonal division points in China, after which the temperature will rise up and rainfall increases. A high time for spring plowing and sowing, it is not only a seasonal point to guide farm work, but more a festival of commemoration combining sadness and happiness. People visit the gravesites of their ancestors to pay respects to the dead at their tombs and hold memorial ceremonies in honor of their ancestors. It is also a day to celebrate the coming of spring with outdoor activities such as picnicking, tug-of-war, kite-flying, swinging, dancing, etc.
The Dragon Boat Festival
Held on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, usually in June in the Gregorian calendar, it has had a history of more than 2,000 years. The best-known story of its origin centers on a great patriotic poet named Qu Yuan. The customs vary a lot in different areas of the country, but most of the families would hang the picture of Zhong Kui (a ghost that can exorcise), calamus and moxa in their houses. People have Dragon Boat Races, eat Zong Zi (dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves), drink realgar wine, and carry a spice bag around with them.
The Double Seventh Festival
The Double Seventh Festival (Chinese Valentine's Day), on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, is a traditional festival full of romance. Most Chinese remember being told a romantic tragedy when they were children on the double seventh, where the cowherd and the Weaving Maid will meet on a bridge of magpies on the sky across the Milky Way once a year. Today some traditional customs are still observed in rural areas of China, but have been weakened or diluted in urban cities. Urban youths celebrate it as Valentine's Day in China.
The Ghost Festival
Chinese Ghost Festival is also called Zhongyuan Jie, a traditional festival which falls on the 14th night and the 15th day of the 7th lunar month.
It roots in the Buddhist festival of Ullambana, and also some from the Taoist culture. The Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to a story that originally came from India, but later took on culturally Chinese overtones. The story, "Mu Lien Saves his Mother from Suffering in Hell", saying a man called Mu Lien that had magic power and saw her mother in the hell dropped into the mouth of hungry ghost and suffered. Mu Lien had no idea and asked the Buddha for help. The Buddha told him to save his mother 15th day of the 7th lunar month by placing sacrifices in Yu Lan Pen.
The Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually in October in Gregorian calendar. People selected this day to celebrate because it is a season when crops and fruits are all ripe and weather pleasant. It is a day to worship the moon god. It is also the birthday of the earth god. The Chinese use this opportunity to express their gratitude to heaven and earth (represented by moon and earth respectively) for the blessing they have enjoyed. Round moon cakes are eaten on this day and are also symbolic of family unity. All family members or friends meet outside, putting food on tables and looking up at the sky while chatting leisurely.
The Double Ninth Festival
Also named Chong Yang Festival, falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, hence the name of Double Ninth Festival. The custom of ascending a height to avoid epidemics was passed down from long time ago. On this day, people will eat Double Ninth Gao (or Cake). In Chinese, gao (cake) has the same pronunciation with gao (height). People do so just to hope progress in everything they are engaged in. The festival is also a time when chrysanthemum blooms, so enjoying the flourishing chrysanthemum also becomes a key activity on this festival.
The Winter Solstice
As early as 2,500 years ago, China had determined the point of Winter Solstice by observing movements of the sun with a sundial. It is the earliest of the 24 seasonal division points. The Northern hemisphere on this day experiences the shortest daytime and longest nighttime. After the Winter Solstice, days will become longer and longer. As ancient Chinese think positive things will become stronger and stronger after this day, so it should be celebrated. People of the same surname or family clan gather at their ancestral temples to worship their ancestors in age order. After the sacrificial ceremony, there is always a grand banquet.
Today, the lifestyles of the Chinese people have changed, but the importance of traditional festivals in their lives has not faded. Besides the ethnic, geographic, historic, and linguistic ties that unite the Chinese, traditional festivals are one of the strongest bonds reinforcing the cultural identity of the Chinese.
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