Traditional Chinese festivals are the most important parts of Chinese people’s lives that fully display Chinese cultural highlights. Based on the Chinese lunar calendar, these festivals were once used to relate to the farming lifestyle. In this article, we have listed the major traditional Chinese festivals and have tried to show you the most fun and cultural facts about them.
Main Traditional Chinese Festivals
|Festival Name||Date||Date in 2019||Chinese Festival Customs|
|Chinese New Year||First to 15th day of the first lunar month||January 5th to 19th||Making dumplings, pasting scrolls, setting off fireworks, and visiting relatives|
|The Lantern Festival||15th day of the first lunar month||January 19th||Setting off fireworks, guessing lantern riddles, and eating yuanxiao (sweet dumplings made with glutinous rice four)|
|The Qingming Festival||April 4th or 5th||April 5th||Sweeping tombs, flying kites, and going on outings|
|The Dragon Boat Festival||Fifth day of the fifth lunar month||June 7th||Eating zongzi, watching dragon boat races, and tying five-color silk threads|
|The Double Seventh Festival||Seventh day of the seventh lunar month||August 7th||Washing hair, worshiping Zhinv, and eating indigenous fruit|
|The Mid-Autumn Festival||15th day of the eighth lunar month||September 13th||Sacrificing to the moon, having a reunion dinner, and eating mooncakes|
|The Double Ninth Festival||Ninth day of the ninth lunar month||October 7th||Eating Chongyang cake, going mountain climbing, and drinking chrysanthemum wine|
The Spring Festival / Chinese New Year — the Most Important Festival in China
The Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is the most important and grandest traditional festival in China, and it has more than 4,000 years of history. Chinese people celebrate this meaningful holiday from the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar to the 15th day of this month.
The origin of the Spring Festival dates back to the Shang Dynasty (17th–11th century BC). It began as the result of a fight against the monster named Nian (a monster that liked to eat children). Nian appeared at the end of every year and people set off firecrackers to get rid of it. Gradually, the custom of expelling the monster on the last day of the year became an annual festival and it is still celebrated every year.
Chinese families will clean rooms and prepare abundant amounts of delicious food together before the important festival. It’s a precious time for Chinese people (similar to Christmas Day for Westerners) to get together and enjoy the ending of the year and the start of the next year.
Traditional Customs for the Spring Festival
- Making dumplings. Dumplings represent a happy reunion and good luck for the following year. Chinese people make dumplings for their New Year's reunion dinner.
- Setting off firecrackers. It is said that in order to scare away the terrible monster Nian, people must set off firecrackers at midnight.
- Cleaning and decorating houses. Before the festival, family members clean their houses, such as sweeping dust away and wiping windows clean, to welcome the arrival of the new year.
- Children are given 'lucky money'. Money is usually placed in a red envelope and it represents the adult's best wishes to a child.
- Staying up late on New Year's Eve. People believe that doing so can drive all evil spirits away and bring good luck for the new year.
- Posting New Year's scrolls. These display messages of best wishes for happiness and good fortune for the future.
- Visiting relatives on New Year’s Day. Friends and relatives will go back to their hometowns before the Spring Festival, and people like to visit them during this holiday.
The Lantern Festival — the Ending of the Spring Festival
This traditional Chinese festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month, which also marks the end of the Spring Festival. Traditionally, the Lantern Festival was a time for family reunions and was regarded as being very important in ancient times.
The history of the Lantern Festival dates back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 25 AD). At that time, the Lantern Festival was only celebrated in imperial palaces but it gradually became a meaningful festival for all Chinese people.
Eating yuanxiao (made of glutinous rice flour), admiring colorful lanterns, and guessing lantern riddles are very interesting activities to experience in China during this festival.
Traditional Customs for the Lantern Festival
- Guessing lantern riddles. There are all kinds of shapes, colors, and sizes of lanterns but every lantern's riddle is different. It's a very interesting activity and shows the wisdom of Chinese people.
- Admiring beautiful lanterns. When it's time to celebrate the festival, lanterns of different sizes and colors will appear everywhere.
- Eating sweet and soft dumplings made of glutinous rice flour. Sweet dumplings are also known as yuanxiao and tangyuan. It's a traditional type of food eaten during the Lantern Festival.
The Qingming Festival — a Day of Worship in Late Spring
The Qingming Festival is also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day and it falls in late spring (April 4th or 5th). With natural and humanistic connotations, Tomb-Sweeping Day is not only the natural solar term but is also a traditional festival that has been celebrated by Chinese people for thousands of years.
The historical development of Tomb-Sweeping Day carries rich cultural connotations. Due to different regional cultures, various customs are observed during the Qingming Festival across the country. Although festival activities vary from place to place, tomb sweeping, ancestor worship, and outings are common basic rituals and customs in China.
Traditional Customs for the Qingming Festival
- Having an outing. Weather conditions during the Qingming Festival are comfortable and people enjoy having outings with friends, something that has been popular since ancient times.
- Tree planting. Before and after the Qingming Festival, the survival rate of newly planted saplings is high and so is the growth rate. Therefore, there is a custom of planting trees on Tomb-Sweeping Day, and some people also call it “Arbor Day”.
- Flying a kite. Flying kites is also a popular activity during the Qingming Festival, not just during the daytime but also at nighttime. People tie small, colorful lanterns on the kites, which look like shining stars at night.
- Tomb sweeping and worshiping ancestors. The Qingming Festival is the most important day to honor ancestors in spring.
The Dragon Boat Festival — with a History of Over 2,000 Years
The Dragon Boat Festival is also known as the Duanwu Festival. It falls on the fifth day of the fifth Chinese lunar month. Among the traditional Chinese festivals, the Dragon Boat Festival has a long history of over 2,000 years. During this significant festival, Chinese people eat rice dumplings and hold dragon boat races to celebrate it. It is said that the festival is held in memory of a very famous poet named Qu Yuan.
Traditional Customs for the Dragon Boat Festival
- Eating traditional festival food called zongzi. Glutinous rice is wrapped in bamboo leaves. The flavors differ between the north and south of China. Northern people prefer sweet rice dumplings but southern people prefer to eat salty rice dumplings.
- Dragon boat races. It's a very popular activity during the festival. People are divided into groups and each team works the oars together to reach the destination first.
- Drinking hsiung huang wine and wearing fragrant sachets to drive evil away. This special custom originated in a fairy tale named The White Snake. The leading man of the story was named Xu Xian and he fell in love with a girl, but he didn't know the girl was actually a snake. She was a very kind girl and was in love with him too. However, when he discovered the truth, Xu Xian drank hsiung huang wine to drive away the snake.
The Double Seventh Festival — the Earliest Love Festival in the World
Also known as the Qixi Festival, the Double Seventh Festival falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, hence its name. This is the earliest love festival in the world and it originated from the worship of natural celestial phenomena.
A famous Chinese legend states that Niulang (a farmer) and Zhinv (a beautiful fairy) met on this day. Zhinv’s mother would not allow them to be together but magpies wanted to help them and formed a bridge for them to meet again.
Traditional Customs for the Qixi Festival
- Threading needles and begging for cleverness. A race to thread needles takes place in which girls thread colorful threads through seven needles. The fastest girl is regarded as the most skillful and cleverest girl.
- Threading needles under the moonlight. This is done to pray for skillful hands.
- Worshiping Zhinv. Young women like to pray to Zhinv for a kind husband.
The Mid-Autumn Festival / the Moon Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival is perhaps the second most important festival in China and originated from the practice of worshiping the moon. It's said that the fullest and roundest moon will appear on the festival night. A round moon symbolizes perfection and reunions. Traditionally, family members eat mooncakes and admire the beautiful moon in the yard together. It's a very precious and happy time for Chinese people.
Traditional Customs for the Mid-Autumn Festival
- Admiring the full and round moon. The Mid-Autumn Festival can be dated back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC). A full moon is a symbol of family unity. During the night, family members sit together to enjoy the beautiful scene in the yard.
- Sacrificing to the moon. In ancient times, people held ceremonies to celebrate the full moon with mooncakes, apples, and so on.
- Eating some round food, such as mooncakes. Mooncakes represent best wishes to the people they're given to, and it's necessary to eat them when gazing at the full moon.
The Double Ninth Festival / the Chongyang Festival
The Chongyang Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, so it’s also known as the Double Ninth Festival. The number nine is considered to be a yang number in the Book of Changes and chong means repeat, so ‘double nine’ is chongyang.
According to existing historical records, the origin of this festival can be traced back to ancient times. It was a day to make sacrifices to the gods and ancestors to appreciate their kindness, and also to harvest crops in September.
Traditional Customs for the Chongyang Festival
- The Chongyang Festival is a wonderful time to put crops under the sun and this rural tradition is known as shaiqiu.
- Flying a kite. In South China, flying a kite is considered to be a main custom during the Chongyang Festival.
- Mountain climbing. Ancient people went to extraordinary lengths to worship on mountains. They would climb mountains and pray for good luck.
- Eating Chongyang cake. Chongyang cake is also known as “flower cake” — it is made with flowers and flour. “Cake” in Chinese is gao and represents that people want their lives to get better and better.
The Winter Solstice Festival — the Dongzhi Festival
Dongzhi is an important solar term in the Chinese 24 solar terms and this is a common traditional festival in China. The Winter Solstice Festival was regarded as a grand festival in ancient China, which was even more important than the Spring Festival. It marks the end of a year and people go home to spend time with their families.
Traditional Customs for the Dongzhi Festival
- Worshiping the gods and ancestors. Every family puts their genealogy, ancestral images, and memorial tablets in their halls, and prays for a good harvest and luck in the coming year.
- Eating Dongzhi food. Dongzhi foods vary in different regions. The Guangdongnese prefer to eat roast meat, the Chaoshanese eat dongjiewan, and the Hangzhounese people eat nian gao. The Sichuannese eat mutton soup, and the Hunanese and Hubeinese people eat red beans and glutinous rice.
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