Chinese Traditional Festivals
The Spring Festival
The Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year is the most expected and celebrated traditional festival in China . It is the first day of the lunar year and it comes between January 21 and February 20 by solar calendar. Each year is named after one of the 12 animals according to the Chinese Zodiac. Nian, as Chinese call it according to a Chinese legend, was a legendary beast that came to ruin the peaceful life of people on every eve of the New Year. To drive it away, people set off firecrackers on New Year's Eve and stayed up with long candles lighting up the long night.
The custom of putting up red paper and firing firecrackers to celebrate has lasted from generation to generation. They feel that the color and the sound of firecrackers add to the excitement of the celebration. Even though the climax of the Chinese New Year lasts only two or three days including the New Year's Eve, the New Year season extends from the last mid-month of the previous year to the first mid-month of the new year. People will spend their money buying presents, decorations, food and clothing. Transportation department, railroad in particular, is nervously waiting for the burst of swarms of travelers who rush back home for a family reunion from different parts of the country. It is the biggest occasion for the family reunion.
Days before the New Year, every family is busy giving its house a thorough cleaning, hoping to sweep away all the ill-fortunes which there may have been in the family to make way for the coming of good luck. People also give their doors and window-panes a new polishing. They decorate the doors and windows with traditional paper-cut and poetically antithetic couplets with popular themes of happiness, wealth, longevity or sweet marriage with more children. Paintings of the same themes are put up in the house on the newly mounted wall paper.
The eve of the New Year is very carefully observed as a great occasion for people to come together to have a family reunion. The family members sit around the table and enjoy a great feast known as Happy Family Reunion Dinner while watching special programs designed for New Year's Eve on China 's Central Television. One of the most popular courses is Jiaozi at dinner. After dinner, it is time for the whole family to sit up for the night while watching TV programs. Every lights is supposed to be kept on the whole night. At mid-night, the sky will be lit up by firecrackers, the peak of people's excitement has reached.
Very early in the next morning, children greet their parents and receive cash wrapped up in red paper as a gift from their parents. Then, people start out to express greetings from door to door, first their relatives and then their neighbors. It is great time for reconciliation. Old grudges are cast away during the greetings. The air is permeated with warmth and friendliness and people are visiting each other with the exchange of gifts and best wishes. Customs of observing the New Year vary from place to place, considering that China is a big country not only geographically, but also demographically and ethnically. Yet, the spirit underlying the diverse celebrations of the Chinese New Year is the same: a sincere wish for peace and happiness for each family member and friend.
Nowadays, people have changed some of the practices in their celebrations. Some of the families would like to watch TV programs on the Eve of the Spring Festival at home. And some families would rather celebrate the occasion in restaurants or hotels. Some like to continue during the following days. In big cities, fireworks are prohibited for environmental reasons, but some families would still do it by going out of town into the country. With the convenience of modern science and technology, people phone each other or send emails or short messages by mobile phone or computers to say ¡°Happy New Year¡±. Although some like to get together to feast with family members, colleagues, classmates, and friends, to recall the pleasant moments they enjoyed, some families choose to get away on a tourist trip. In the rural area, people decorate every door with Spring Scrolls to greet the spring for prosperity; and in the urban area, people simplify the process by putting up some lucky characters as fu (good fortune) or Chun (spring) on the door for more holiday atmosphere of the season. In many companies and offices, people enjoy a week's vacation but as a matter of fact many people take this full first month of the year for relaxation.
The lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival sets in on the fifteenth day of the Spring Festival, creating an anti-climax atmosphere of the Festival. Lantern exhibitions, lion-dragon dances, guessing riddles and eating tangyuan (ball-shape boiled rice dumplings with sweet stuffing) feature this day. The Chinese lantern is made of iron wires, wood, bamboo, silk or paper, with embroidery, drawing, or oil painting, and it is a folk art, dating back some 2,000 years.
The palace lantern is worth mentioning. Originally, the palace lantern was a decoration in the imperial palace. The Lantern Festival originated during the Han Dynasty as a way of assuring continued prosperity and longevity. So it is an ancient practice in China to use lanterns for decoration during festivals and happy occasions. It is an occasion of lantern shows and folk dances everywhere. Lanterns of various shapes and different sizes such as flowers, rabbit, dragon, turtle, fish, pig, chicken, etc., illuminated from inside with candles or electrical bulbs, are placed at doors, on trees, along streets and so forth. It is very much celebrated in the rural areas by farmers. The Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year season, and life returns to normal afterwards.
Though the annual Lantern Festival takes places from the middle of the first lunar month, falling usually in February, and lasts half a month by tradition, lanterns are used on any festive occasion, such as the New Year, the National Day, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the wedding.
The Qing Ming (pure & Bright) Festival
The Qing Ming Festival is in the third month of the lunar year, usually April 5 by the solar calendar. Originally it was celebration of spring. People used to customarily go out on an excursion to ¡°walking on the green¡±. Later it became a day dedicated to the dear departed. Nowadays, it is festival not only to honor and worship the spirits of the family ancestors, but also to honor the departed revolutionary heroes and martyrs in modern China .
Tidying up ancestors' tombs is its major event. People bring wine and food in baskets to display in front of the tombs their ancestors. Then they burn yellow paper (meant for divine money) and add fresh soil to the tombs. The typical food is eggs with thin pies made of flour.
The Fifth Moon Festival or Duanwu (Dragon Boat) Festival
The Fifth Moon Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar year, but often referred to as the Dragon Boat Festival, especially in the southern provinces. There are several stories about the origin of the festival. The popular one is that the festival is held in memory of Qu Yuan, a great patriotic poet and an honest minister of the State of Chu during the Warring State Period.
The people of Chu has great love for Qu Yuan. Filled with a deep sense of loss and having failed to retrieve his body, they sailed up and down the river he died at, throwing into the water glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in reed of bamboo leaves to divert the possible attacks for the body from fish. Since then, people in China have developed the customs of making dumplings of this kind to commemorate the great poet Qu Yuan.
Now the big event of Dragon Boat Festival may be a legacy of such activity. People today still eat the glutinous rice dumplings on that occasion, or rather, Zongzi, pyramid-shaped and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves.
The Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, roughly occurring between the second week of September and the second week of October in the western calendar. It is the second biggest festival next only to the Chinese New Year in significance. Whenever the Mid-Autumn Festival sets in, people will look up and watch the full silver moon, thinking of their relatives or friends, as well as those who are far from home. The moon on this day is the fullest. In China , the full moon symbolizes reunion. Viewing it over wine, fruits and moon-cakes features the night event.
Chinese tradition has it that in ancient times, the Emperor held ceremonies to offer sacrifices to the sun in spring and to the moon in autumn. It is simply referred to as a festival of bumper harvest for grains, fruits, and vegetables for the season. The typical food of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the moon cake, round or sort of square in shape, and of various sizes. In the moon cake, there are melon seeds, lotus seeds, sesame, almonds, red bean paste, and sweetened orange peels, some with golden yolk from a salted duck egg. The moon cake usually sweet, but there are slightly salty ones, too.
There is a beautiful story behind the festival. Children are told that there is a fairy on the moon living in a spacious but cold crystal palace with a jade rabbit as her sole companion. A heavenly general and friend Wu Gang would occasionally pay her a visit, bring along his tasty wine. She would then dance a beautiful dance. The shades on the moon make the story all the more credible and the story is fascinating to the young imaginative minds.