Chinese Holidays & Festivals| 7 min read
The Chinese observe two sets of holidays, official and traditional. In addition, minority nationalities in China have their own unique celebrations. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao also have their own official and traditional holidays.
- Official Chinese Holidays
New Year’s Day (January 1)
Not as much celebrated as it is in other parts of the world because it is overshadowed by the upcoming Chinese New Year which is approximately a month away. Employees enjoy a paid day-off.
- International Labor Day (May 1)
No less celebrated than the New Year’s Day. Employees will enjoy a paid day-off. You can find celebration parties in some parks.
- Youth Day (May 4)
A day in memory of the first mass student movement in 1919, a movement touched off by the then Chinese government that gave in to the Japanese government’s attempt to colonize Shandong Province. It is also an anti-Confucius movement as well as it promoted the Western scientific and democratic ideas. Government organized youth activities everywhere in the country characterizes the celebration of this day today.
- The CCP’s Birthday (July 1)
It marked the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 in Shanghai. It is usually characterized by front page editorials from major government newspapers.
- Army’s Day (August 1)
A communist-led nationalist army staged the first armed uprising in Chinese communist history against the Nationalists on August 1, 1927. It was regarded as the beginning of the Red Army (later the People’s Liberation Army). Now the anniversary is often used to promote better relationships between the army and civilians, a tradition believed to have helped it beat the Nationalists during the civil war in 1949.
- National Day (October 1)
It is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 in the wake of routing the Nationalists who have since taken refuge in Taiwan. There used to be grand parade squares in major cities of the country. Now celebrations usually take the form of parties in amusement parks by day and fireworks and grand TV ensembles during the evening. Employees and students enjoy a one week holiday.
Boasting rich cultural meaning and a long history, traditional Chinese festivals are an important and brilliant part of Chinese culture. As China is a vast land and has many ethnic groups, different ethnic groups have different festivals in different places. Even on the same festival, they follow different customs. The formation of traditional festivals is a long process of historical and cultural accumulation in a nation or a state. Festival customs passed down to today still show signs of ethnic group struggles. Festival activities always reflect primitive sacrifice, superstitious taboo and earthly life, people’s spirit and religious influence. Sometimes historical figures become the focus of a festival, showing people’s commemoration for them and endowing some historical sense to it. Many of these activities are accompanied by singing, dancing, and instrumental performances. In addition, traditional Chinese festivals were often connected with ancient astronomy, calendars and mathematics.
The calendar the Chinese traditional holidays follow is a unique lunar-solar system. Therefore, 1st of the 1st month referred here does not necessarily mean January 1.
The most important Chinese holidays are:
- “Chun Jie” – aka Spring festival – The Chinese New Year (1st of the 1st month)
Each year, when winter is at its end and spring around the corner, people throughout China enthusiastically celebrate the first traditional holiday of the year, the Spring Festival. In the past, when the Chinese people used the lunar calendar, the Spring Festival was known as the New Year. It falls on the first day of the first lunar month, the beginning of a new year. After the Revolution of 1911, China adopted the Gregorian calendar. To distinguish the lunar New Year from the New Year by the Gregorian calendar, the lunar New Year was called the Spring Festival (which generally falls between the last 10-day period of January and mid-February). The evening before the Spring Festival, the lunar New Year’s Eve, is an important time for family reunions. The whole family gets together for a sumptuous dinner, followed by an evening of pleasant talk or games. Some families stay up all night, seeing the year out. The next morning, people make New Year calls to relatives and friends, wishing each other good luck. During the Spring Festival, various traditional recreational activities are enjoyed in many parts of China, notably lion dances, dragon lantern dances, land-boat rowing and stilt-walking.
- “Yuan Xiao Jie” – aka Lantern festival (15th of the 1st month)
Lantern exhibits, lion and dragon dances, and eating Tang Yuan (ball-shaped boiled sweet rice dumplings with delicious stuffing) feature on this day. It is very much celebrated in the rural areas by farmers. The Lantern Festival also marks the end of the Chinese New Year season.
- “Qingming festival” (Fifth of the 24 Solar Terms)
“Qingming” means “Pure & Bright” in Chinese. Originally it was a celebration of spring. People used to customarily go out on an excursion to “tread grass”. Later it became day dedicated to the dear departed. Tidying up ancestors’ tombs is its major big event.
- “Duan Wu Jie”– aka Dragon boat festival (5th of the 5th month)
It is generally believed that this festival originated to honor the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who lived in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period. In despair at not being able to halt the decline of his country, he drowned himself in the Miluo River in modern Hunan Province, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month after the capital of Chu fell to the State of Qin in 278 B.C. Legend has it that after Qu Yuan’s death, people living on the banks of the river went out in their boats to try to find the corpse. Every year thereafter, on this day people would row their boats out onto their local river, throwing sections of bamboo filled with rice into the water as an offering to him. Today, the memory of Qu Yuan lives on, zongzi (pyramid-shaped dumplings made by wrapping glutinous rice in bamboo leaves) remains the traditional food and dragon-boat races are held.
- “Qi Xi” – aka Double Seventh festival (7th of the seventh month)
It is a traditional holiday almost lost to the younger generations today. It originates from a beautiful legend about a cowboy and a fairy who were cruelly separated and reunited once each year on this happy sad occasion.
- “Zhong Qiu Jie” aka Mid-autumn festival (15th of the eighth month)
It is second only to the Chinese New Year in significance. The moon on this day is the fullest and largest to the eye. The whole family will view it whilst feasting on good wine, fruits and moon-cakes during the evening. There is also a beautiful story behind it. Children are told that there’s a fairy on the moon living in a spacious but cold crystal palace with her sole companion, a jade rabbit. A heavenly general and friend would occasionally pay her a visit, bringing along his fragrant wine. She would then dance a beautiful dance. The shadows on the moon made the story all the more credible and fascinating to the young imaginative minds.