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Chinese Festivals

  • Feb 13, 2010
On Lunch, most people are familiar with Valentine's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving & Christmas. I'm assuming most of the people have not much of a clue about Chinese Festivals. Neither do I! So, here's a list I've prepared and hopefully in the process of preparation, I learn a thing or two about being a Chinese! :-) I've omitted some of the less significant festival like Blue Dragon Festival, Shangsi Festival, Bathing & Basking Festival, Double Nine Festival & Water Lantern Festival.

The list is in chronological order.
Chinese New Year
Also known as the Spring Festival. It marks the beginning of a new year. 

This is the most important festival to the Chinese. It begins on the eve of the lunar New Year's Day & ends on the 15th day of the 1st month of the lunar calendar (usually around February). The 15th of the 1st month is normally called the Lantern Festival, meaning the official end of the Spring Festival in many parts of China.

Guo Nian, meaning passing the year, is the common term among the Chinese people for celebrating the Spring Festival. It means greeting the new year.

One of the popular activities among Chinese during the Spring Festival is a meat dumpling feast on the eve of the New Year's Day. That evening, all the members would have a reunion & would sit around a table making meat dumplings!

See the full review, "Tiger reigns for 2010".
Lantern Festival
On this last day of CNY, people will eat Tangyuan (soupy sweet glutinous rice balls) which was also referred to Yuanxiao in the Ming Dynasty.Celebrated on the 15th day, aka last day, of Chinese New Year. Also known as Chinese Valentine's Day. In Chinese, it is known as Yuanxiao Jie. Yuan in ancient China translates to first lunar month while Xiao means night. It's a tradition to have lots of colorful lanterns hung out for others to appreciate during the first month of the year when the full moon is hanging brightly in the sky.
Qingming Festival
104 days after the Winter Solstice (usually around first week of April) is the Qingming Festival. It is a day to visit and pay homage to ancestors by making offerings at ancestors grave sites. It is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day.

This day is a public holiday in China, Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan.

In Chinese tea culture, Qingming Festival marks the day which determines how teas are priced. If it's picked pre-Qingming (mingqian), it commands a higher price.
Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival
Day in Memory of A Patriotic Poet - The 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar year is called Duan Wu meaning Day of Right Mid-Day in China. It is also the day of the dragon boat race.

Duan Wu originates from a folklore. It says that Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet of the State of Chu more than 2000 years ago, drowned himself in the Miluo River in Hunan Province because of the corrupt king who refused to listen to his advise. Later the locals made rice dumplings wrapped in reed-leaves & threw them in the river in the hope that fish in the river would eat the rice dumplings instead of the body of the deceased poet. 

The custom of making rice dumplings spread to the whole country & is still being pratised today!

Qi Xi (Magpie) Festival
There is a love story behind this festival. It falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Hence the name, Qi Xi. 
Here's Wikipedia's version:
"A young cowherd named Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎; pinyin: niú láng; literally "[the] cowherd"), came across seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake. Encouraged by his mischievous companion the ox, he stole their clothes and waited to see what would happen. The fairy sisters elected the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhinü (simplified Chinese: 织女; traditional Chinese: 織女; pinyin: zhī nǚ; literally "[the] weaver girl", the star Vega) to retrieve their clothing. She agreed to do so, but since Niulang had seen her naked, she agreed to his request for marriage. She proved to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang to be a good husband. They lived happily and had two children. But the Goddess of Heaven (or in some versions, Zhinü's mother) found out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The Goddess was furious and ordered Zhinü to return to heaven. (Alternatively, the Goddess forced the fairy back to her former duty of weaving colorful clouds, a task she neglected while living on earth with a mortal.) On Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared. Suddenly, his ox began to talk, telling him that if he killed it and put on its hide, he would be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife. Crying bitterly, he killed the ox, put on the skin, and carried his two beloved children off to Heaven to find Zhinü. The Goddess discovered this and was very angry. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between Altair and Vega.
Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar and takes care of their two children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae or by their Chinese names Hè Gu 1 and Hè Gu 3).
But once a year all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鵲橋, "the bridge of magpies", Que Qiao) over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, which is the seventh night of the seventh moon.
It is said that if it rains on the night of Qi Xi, it is the tears of Niulang and Zhinü crying for a lost year apart because the magpies will not come on a night that rains."

Hungry Ghost Festival
As the name implies, it has to do with the underworld. It falls on the 15th night of the 7th lunar month. In fact, the 7th lunar month is often known as the Ghost Month. It is believed by Chinese that in the entire 7th month, ghosts are released from underworld and wonder around our realm for the whole of the month.

Hence, during the Ghost month, it is advisable not to travel, move house and definitely NOT get married! To do so would be bad luck! In fact, I've also observed that stock markets perform badly during this month for most of the years!
During this festival, many in countries with major Chinese population will burn fake paper money and make offerings to the dead to appease them so that they won't come and bother the living. 
In Fengshui, I've watched TV programs that advise cutting down in travel activities and any other dangerous activities like swimming in the sea, etc... It's been advised to knock at the door before one enters a hotel room even if you know that's an empty room so as to inform the "ghosts" of your arrival. Well, believe it or not, it's not a great month for major events in one's life!

Mid-Autumn Festival
Popularly known as the Moon Cake (or simply Moon) Festival, it is a time of joy and fun for the family.

A month after the Hungry Ghost Festival, on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the moon is round & the Chinese mark it the Moon Festival (also commonly known as Mid-Autumn Festival). The round shape to a Chinese means family reunion. On this day, sons & daughters will bring their family members back to their parents' house for reunion.

Dongzhi (Winter Solstice) Festival
One of the most important Chinese Festivals. It is celebrated by making & eating Tangyuan. Another occasion when family gathers together for reunion. It's celebrated mostly in North Asia where there are winters. It falls on or around Dec. 22 when sunshine is weakest and daylight is shortest.

Tangyuan (balls of glutinous rice) symbolizes reunion are cooked in syrup with a few slices of ginger for the entire family. This practice is common in southern China. In northern China, Chinese typically eat dumplings.

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Sharrie ()
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I'm a traveler at heart & have been nicknamed Travel Queen by friends & colleagues alike. Traveling has been my life passion for the last decade or so. As we enter a new decade, I'm excited … more
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