Chinese Holidays: An Overview of the Festivals Celebrated in China

I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss a bit about the holidays celebrated in China, both the traditional and official holidays. As most people know, China’s history is extensive, and a great many traditions have developed over this time and grown with regards to the celebrations of holidays.

Traditional Chinese Holidays

Spring Festival

(The Chinese New Year) (1st day of the 1st month)

The Spring Festival is one of the biggest and most celebrated festivals in China as well as around parts of Southeast Asia, It is typically around the end of January or the beginning of February but varies according to the Lunar Calendar.

Chinese New Year, in Chinese 新年 or “Xin Nian”, marks the beginning of Spring. “Xin” means “New” and “Nian” means “Year”. There is an ancient story regarding the origin of the festival told about a beast called “Nian.”

The old story says that the beast “Nian” had a very big mouth, and it was so fierce that it could swallow many people in one bite. The beast “Nian” was greatly feared. Methods were eventually developed for people to scare away “Nian” including shooting off fireworks and hanging red paper on doors and windows.

Eventually the term 过年, “Guo Nian”, took on the meaning to “pass over” or “survive” the “Nian”. Today, people still put up red paper and set off firecrackers as a way of celebrating the New Year, traditions that date back more than a thousand years.

Lantern Festival

(15th day of the 1st month)

It is a holiday to mark the end of the Chinese New Year. Lantern exhibits, lion and dragon dances, and eating Tang Yuan are typical traditions of this holiday.

Tomb Sweeping Day

Celebrated two weeks after the vernal equinox, typically on April 4, 5, or 6. Originally it was a celebration of spring. Now families will go sweep the tombs of relatives who have passed in order to honor them. Other traditions include cutting grass, setting off fireworks, and offering of fruits and wine.

Duan Wu (Dragon Boat) Festival

(5th of the 5th month by the Lunar Calendar)

The Dragon Boat Festival is said to be in memory of a great patriot poet of the then State of Chu during the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.), Qu Yuan (Ch’u Yuan), who drowned himself to protest his emperor who gave in to the aggressive State of Chin. For fear that fish would consume his body, the people of Chu launched their boats and started throwing rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river where he was drowned to feed the fish.

The tradition of dragon boat contests are seemingly be in memory of this, and people today still eat the bamboo-leave rice dumplings, known as Zongzi, on this holiday.

The Seventh Eve

(The 7th day of the seventh month)

This is a traditional holiday similar to Valentine’s Day in the West.

It originates from a beautiful legend about a mortal man and a fairy who were in love but cruelly separated only allowed to reunite once each year on 7/7. Thus it has become an opportunity for young lovers to celebrate their time together.

Mid-Autumn Festival (15th of the eighth month by the Lunar Calendar)

It is traditionally second only to the Chinese New Year in significance. The moon on this day is the fullest and largest in the year. Typically it is an opportunity for whole families to gather together and celebrate the moon with good wine, fruits and the traditional Chinese desert- moon-cakes.

List of Official Government Holidays in China.

New Years Day (January 1)

This is a celebration of the Solar New Year as recognized throughout the world. Employees enjoy a paid day-off in China. There are typically many parties and celebrations (more so in recent years), in parks, dancing halls and universities where students will be leaving for the winter vacation.

International Women’s Day (March 8)

Female employees will get a whole or half paid day-off to celebrate this holiday. Stores will even offer special discounts on female items as well.

Tree-Planting Day (April 1)

This day is not an actual official day off work, however it marks the beginning of the green campaign all over the country during the month each year.

International Labour Day (May 1)

This is similar in importance to (Solar) New Years celebration, where employees enjoy a 3-day paid holiday. In addition, the weather is improving as it is the middle of Spring and families will usually take the opportunity to travel.

Youth Day (May 4)

Though not an official day off, Youth Day is meant to commemorate the first Youth Movement in 1919. This was a nationalist movement in reaction to the imperialist intentions of the Japanese at the time, as they encroached into Shandong Province. It also soon evolved into an anti-Confucius movement with a focus on pro-democracy and western scientific ideas.

Children’s Day (June 1)

Though also not a day off, it is a say which kids can enjoy as there are many entertainment outlets such as cinemas, parks and children museums with free entry to kids. Elementary schools typically have celebrations in school while parents give gifts.

Founding of the Communist Party (July 1)

This day is not usually given a day off but is marked to commemorate the founding of the CCP in 1921 in Shanghai.

Army’s Day (August 1)

This is a holiday to celebrate the communist-led nationalist army staging the first armed uprising in Chinese communist history against the Nationalists on August 1, 1927. There is no day off for Army’s Day.

Teacher’s Day (September 10)

This was started in the early eighties as an effort to reverse the anti-intellectual sentiment nurtured by the “Cultural Revolution” during the previous decade and offered as an opportunity to show appreciation for teachers.

National Day (October 1)

This holiday can often run 7 days. It is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. As the longest holiday along with the Spring Festival, it can also be a good opportunity to travel.

By Emma Zhu, CPG Sourcing Associate

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on June 7, 2011. 

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