With thousands of years history, the life of people across China today impacted by both past civilizations and modern civilizations, and their public holidays have been different from the West, but very interesting.
Starting with the Spring Festival, it is the most important festival of the Chinese people when all family members get together, just like Christmas in the West. This holidays falls between January and February and that is the wrong time to travel in China, because all the different types of transportation would be fully booked from December.
The reason for this is all those living away from home go back to celebrate. This period is when foreign students find China very difficult, as the campus will virtually be empty; streets become deserted and entertainment spots closed.
The Spring Festival falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month, often one month later than the Gregorian calendar. It originated in the Shang Dynasty around 1600 BC from the people’s sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one.
Strictly speaking, the Spring Festival starts every year in the early days of the 12th lunar month and will last till the mid 1st lunar month of the next year. Of them, the most important days are Spring Festival Eve and the first three days. The Chinese government now stipulates people have seven days off for the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Many customs accompany the Spring Festival. Some are still followed today, but others have weakened. People attach great importance to Spring Festival Eve. At that time, all family members eat dinner together. The meal is more luxurious than usual. Dishes such as chicken, fish and dumplings cannot be excluded, for in Chinese, their pronunciations, respectively “ji”, “yu” and “doufu,” mean auspiciousness, abundance and richness. After the dinner, the whole family will sit together, chatting and watching TV.
Another interesting holiday is the Dragon Boat Festival that falls on the 5th lunar month. It has a history of more than 2,000 years.
There are many legends about the evolution of the festival, the most popular of which is in commemoration of Qu Yuan – 340-278 BC. Qu Yuan was minister of the State of Chu and one of China’s earliest poets. In face of great pressure from the powerful Qin State, he advocated enriching the country and strengthening its military forces so as to fight against the Qin.
However, he was opposed by aristocrats headed by Zi Lan, and later deposed and exiled by King Huai. In his exiled days, he still cared much for his country and people and composed immortal poems including Li Sao – The Lament, Tian Wen – Heavenly Questions and Jiu Ge – Nine Songs, which had far-reaching influences.
In 278 BC, he heard the news that Qin troops had finally conquered Chu’s capital, so he finished his last piece Huai Sha – Embracing Sand and plunged himself into the Miluo River, clasping his arms to a large stone.
After his death, the people of Chu crowded to the bank of the river to pay their respects to him. The fishermen sailed their boats up and down the river to look for his body. People threw into the water zongzi – pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in leaves and eggs to divert possible fish or shrimp from attacking his body. An old doctor poured a jug of reaglar wine – Chinese liquor seasoned with reaglar into the water, hoping to turn all aquatic beasts drunk. That’s why people later followed the customs such as dragon boat racing, eating zongzi and drinking realgar wine on that day.
On Dragon Boat Festival, parents also need to dress their children up with a perfume pouch. They first sew little bags with colorful silk cloth, then fill the bags with perfumes or herbal medicines, and finally string them with silk threads.
The perfume pouch will be hung around the neck or tied to the front of a garment as an ornament. They are said to be able to ward off evil.
Dragon boat racing is an indispensable part of the festival, held all over the country. As the gun is fired, people will see racers in dragon-shaped canoes pulling the oars harmoniously and hurriedly, accompanied by rapid drums, speeding toward their destination. Folk tales say the game originates from the activities of seeking Qu Yuan’s body, but experts, after painstaking and meticulous research, conclude that dragon boat racing is a semi-religious, semi-entertaining program from the Warring States Period.
After several years, the game spread to Japan, Vietnam and Britain as well as China’s Taiwan and Hong Kong. Now dragon boat racing has developed into an aquatic sports item which features both Chinese tradition and modern sporting spirit. In 1980, it was listed into the state sports competition programs and has since been held every year. The award is called “Qu Yuan Cup.”
The Lantern Festival is another of China’s interesting holidays and it falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, usually February. This day’s important activity is watching lanterns.
One thing that is of interest in Chinese culture is for every holiday celebrated, they have the kind of food to celebrate.
On this particular holiday, People will eat yuanxiao, or rice dumplings, so it is also called the “Yuanxiao Festival.”Yuanxiao also has another name, tangyuan.
Tangyuan can be boiled, fried or steamed. It tastes sweet and delicious. What’s more, tangyuan in Chinese has a similar pronunciation with “tuanyuan”, meaning reunion. So people eat them to denote union, harmony and happiness for the family.
On the daytime of the Festival, performances such as a dragon lantern dance, a lion dance, a land boat dance, a yangge dance, walking on stilts and beating drums while dancing will be staged. On the night, except for magnificent lanterns, fireworks form a beautiful scene.
Most families spare some fireworks from the Spring Festival and let them off in the Lantern Festival. Some local governments will even organize a fireworks party. On the night when the first full moon enters the New Year, people become really intoxicated by the imposing fireworks and bright moon in the sky.
Chinese holidays are so interesting that you will want it to continue celebrating for days.
Till today, the lantern festival is still held each year around the country. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, attracting countless visitors. Children will hold self-made or bought lanterns to stroll with on the streets, extremely excited.
With Austin Thomas