Aside from celebrating many of today’s modern holidays including New Year’s Day, Labor Day, and National Day, China has kept with tradition and still celebrates many of the traditional Chinese holidays that have been an fundamental part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. These holidays, often said to derive from Chinese mythology, date back to ancient farmer rituals for celebrating harvests and prayer offerings. Although, the Gregorian calendar is used for most day to day activities in China, the Chinese calendar, which is a luni-solar calendar, is used to mark these traditional holidays, which can make for a very confusing holiday schedule.
There are three traditional holidays that are still considered to be very important to the Chinese people. The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is considered to be the most important holiday in China and is celebrated throughout the entire nation. Celebrations and preparations start the evening before the New Year, first with cleaning the house and the putting up posters of “door gods” on all the front doors, followed by fireworks and a 10 course family dinner. The following day, on the first day of the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the Chinese New Year is celebrated with fireworks and family gatherings, especially with the elderly. These celebrations last for fifteen days, ending with the Lantern Festival. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night carrying bright lanterns. These lanterns used to be fairly simple, saving the more embellished, ornate ones for only the emperor and noblemen. But in modern times, the lanterns have become larger with more complex designs, often made in the shape of animals. Traditionally, this day was reserved for a day of love and matchmaking and was one of the few nights without a strict curfew, allowing young people to be chaperoned in the streets in hopes of finding love. The brightest lanterns were supposedly a sign of good luck and hope. Another important holiday in China is The Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a popular Chinese celebration of abundance and togetherness, dating back over 3000 years. In Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, it is often called the Lantern Festival, which could be confused with the festival that marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which is usually around mid or late September according to the Gregorian calendar. The festival falls during a time in which the moon is at its fullest and brightest, marking an ideal time to celebrate the abundance of the summer’s harvest. Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomeloes together. Brightly lit lanterns are often carried around by children. The Winter Solstice Festival is also considered to be extremely important and is celebrated on the day of the winter solstice, when the sunshine is the weakest and daylight the shortest. (This usually occurs on or around December 21st according to the Gregorian calendar.) The origins of this festival can be traced back to the Yin and Yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival, as it is called in Chinese, is a time for the family to get together.
Aside, from the three most celebrated and most important holidays, there are several traditional holidays that are celebrated in most places throughout the country. The Qingming Festival, occurring on the 104th day of the Winter Solstice, (usually around April 5th in the Gregorian calendar) is a day to remember and honor ones ancestors. Often called Tomb Sweeping Day, or Memorial Day in English, both the young and the old pray before ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food to those who have passed away. These traditions are very important to most Chinese, especially farmers, and the Qingming Festival is considered an official public holiday in Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Macau. The Tuen Ng Festival or Dragon Boat Festival occurs on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The exact origins of this festival are unknown, although it is widely believed that the festival is in honor of the Chinese poet, Qu Yuan, who committed suicide by drowning himself in the river. The local people sat on dragon boats and tried to scare the fishes away by the thundering sound of drums aboard the boat and the fierce looking dragon-head in the front of the boat. The day is celebrated by dragon boat racing, eating Zongzi, or rice dumplings, and drinking yellow rice wine. Qi Xi, or the Night of Sevens, celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, is often called the Chinese Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, young women express their gift for domestic acts on this day and make wishes for a good husband. The 7th month is also known as the Ghost month, in which ghosts and spirits come out from the lower world to visit earth and it is during this month that The Ghost Festival occurs, honored on the 14th day. The Ghost Festival includes activities such as preparing ritualistic food offerings, and burning hell money in order to please the visiting ghosts and spirits. A very solemn festival, it represents a connection between the living and the dead, earth and heaven as well as body and soul. The Double Ninth Festival, celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which is considered a potentially dangerous date. The festival was intially a day to drive away this danger, however over time, it has become a day of celebration. In contemporary times it is an occasion for hiking and chrysanthemum appreciation.
Although China is split into several provinces, and there are different declared public holidays in all of them, most of these holidays are celebrated throughout the nation due to their historical importance in the culture. Other public holidays that are celebrated in only certain areas, include Buddha’s birthday which is celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th month of the lunar calendar in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.