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Dunhuang of China.

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Characterized by diverse styles and themes, traditional Chinese festivals are an important part of the country's history and culture, both ancient and modern. A close relationship exists between many of the traditional festivals and chronology, mathematics, the Chinese calendar and the twenty-four solar terms. Many of the customs connected with the traditional festivals have links with religious devotions, superstitions and myths. The form which most of the festivals take today was established around the time of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220BC) and for many years, various eminent poets have written countless masterpieces describing the festivals and are still recited regularly today.

Almost every festival has its own unique origins and customs which reflect the traditional practices and morality of the whole Chinese nation and its people. The grandest and most popular festivals are the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, the Qingming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-autumn Festival, etc.

Chinese Traditional Festivals

Festival

Date

Customs

Spring Festival

1st - 15th of the first lunar month

Pasting scrolls, the character 'Fu', and paper-cuts pictures, displaying firecrackers and fireworks, paying New Year visits, and eating jiaozi.

Lantern Festival

15th day of the first lunar month

Watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles, performing folk dances, and eating tangyuan, this day is also the last day of new year celebration

Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival)

April 4th or 5th of the solar calendar

Visit, clean, and make offerings at ancestral gravesites, spring outing, spring outings and flying kites.

Duanwu Festival (Dragon Boat Festival)

5th day of the 5th lunar month

Dragon boat racing, eating zongzi, this festival commemorates the ancient poet Qu Yuan; drink yellow rice wine, related to the White Snake Lady legend

Qixi Festival (Double Seventh Festival)

7th day of seventh lunar month

Praying for skillful hands, appreciating the stars, and eating noodles, jiaozi, and wontons.

Mid-autumn Festival

15th day of the 8th lunar month

Appreciating and offering sacrifice to the moonlight and eating moon cakes, family union meal

Chongyang Festival

9th day of the 9th lunar month

Autumn outing and mountain climbing, some Chinese also visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. Eating Chongyang cake, drinking chrysanthemum wine, climbing mountains and appreciating beautiful chrysanthemums.

Dongzhi Festival (Winter Solstice)

Dec. 21st, 22nd or 23rd in solar calendar

Having dumplings in northern areas and having sticky puddings in southern areas

Laba Festival

8th day of the 12th lunar month

This is the day the Buddha attained enlightenment. People usually eat Laba congee, which is made of mixed grains and fruits.

 

Spring Festival

Spring Festival is one of the most important and ceremonious festival in China, which is from the first day to the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar. About one month ahead of the spring festival, people will get preparation for it, such as cleaning house; do shopping and making storable food. For celebrating the festival, people will hang couplets and red lanterns onto the doors, and play firecrackers delightfully, and everywhere is permeated with holiday atmosphere.

Another important thing for the Spring Festival is family reunion and people working far away from home will get back home for family reunion. On the family union dinner, people will usually enjoy the appetizing family reunion dinner together. On the family reunion dinner, the young express best wishes and toast for the elder's health and happiness, children will get the lucky money from the elder after saying "Happy New Year" to the elder.

On the first day of the festival, children will dress their new clothes and pay a New Year’s visit to their relatives, and then they will give them New Year’s money. In the following days, people will pay a new year's visit to relatives and friends, and expressing their good wishes to the next year to each other. The last day, on the 15th day of the festival, would be the world-famous Lantern Festival.

Since Spring Festival is a traditional Chinese festival, there are still some taboos about it. During Spring Festival, unlucky behaviors and words should be avoided because those bad things may happen if these words are spoken out. Such words as bad, dead, kill, ache and the likes are not welcome. Moreover, water should not be sprinkled out of the house, which may bring bad luck to the New Year. Also when holding the fragile articles like plates, cups and glasses, the one should be particularly careful and never break them. What is more, neither sweeping the floor nor cutting hair is welcome on the spring festival. While different regions have different taboos on the Spring Festival.

Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival is another important festival in China, which is celebrated on the 15th of the first month in lunar calendar every year. Lantern festival marks the end of the Spring Festival. There are some traditional customs and activities for lantern festival, which has been introduced as follows.

On the Lantern Festival, splendid lanterns show would be displayed and lanterns of different shapes could be seen everywhere, which attracts uncountable visitors. Accompanying lanterns, various fireworks would be lighted, which explore and disperse into different shapes in the dark sky successively. Everywhere is permeated with delightful atmosphere on the night of lantern festival.

Guessing lantern riddles is another important recreational activity in the Lantern Festival. Each lantern contains a riddle and people will guess it, which is very interesting. If someone has an answer to a riddle, he can pull the paper from the lantern and ask the organizers to verify the answer. If the answer is right, then little gifts would be presented. Since this intellectual activity is very exciting and interesting, guessing riddles on the lantern festival is quite popular among many people, old and young, man and women.

Another important activity for the festival is the exciting folk dances, such as Lion Dance and Walking on the Stilts. In the lion dance, two dancers, on for the lion's head, the other for the loin's tail, are dressed up like big lions. The dancers take coordinated and rhythmic steps and perform with the music of loud gongs and drums. Sometimes, it jumps, sometimes it roars. Another representative folk dance during the lantern festival is walking on the stilts. The performers' feet are bended onto the stilts and they walks on stilts. Dressed up gorgeously, the performers impersonate different animals, such as monks, clowns, fishermen and the likes, which appeal many visitors.
As for food, people usually eat ball-shaped sweet dumplings in this festival, also called Yuanxiao in Chinese, which is made of glutinous rice flour filled diversified fillings. So the Lantern Festival is also called Yuanxiao Festival.

Tomb-sweeping Day

Tomb-sweeping Day, also known as pure brightness day, is one of the most important traditional festivals in China, which usually falls onto 4th, 5th or 6th of April. On the tomb-sweeping day, people will visit their ancestors' graves and mourn for the dead, burning incense, offering food and paper coins. They will also clean the grave area, such as getting rid of weeds growing around the tomb and removing dust on the tomb-grave. After that, some flowers would also be presented. People usually refresh earth, sacrifice and show flows to their ancestor's on this special day.

During the days around Qingming, everything is recovered and refreshed, so many outdoor activities like traveling around, flying kites and planting trees are favored by many people.

Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival, another traditional festival in China, falls on the May 5th in lunar calendar every year, which is celebrated to commemorate an ancient patriotic poet named Qu Yuan. Customs on this festival are listed as follows:

On the Dragon Boat Festival, people will eat the triangle-shaped rice dumplings, zong zi literally in Chinese, which is made of glutinous rice filled with different kinds of fillings like dates, nuts and beans. Many families made rice dumplings at home by themselves. After the rice with fillings is prepared, people will wrap the rice with reed leaves into triangle-shape and then boil it for 20 minutes.

Another important activity on this festival is holding Dragon Boat race in honor of the great poet Qu Yuan. On the dragon boat racing, a competition would be held between the two teams. The one who reach the final destination first is the winner. It was said that the winning team would bring harvest and happiness to the people of their villages. Generally, a team member stands in front of the boat and beats the drum to keep the delightful spirit of other members. In the competition, team work spirit is essentially needed.

Making Fragrant Handicrafts for Children

What is more, people will hang special wormwood named Ai on the front door to drive out evil spirits. Moreover, women will make handicrafts with different ships and fill them with special fragrant ingredients. After finished, they will hang the delicate handicraft to the kids' necks to pray for their healthy and happiness.

The Chinese Valentines' Day

The Chinese Valentines' Day, also known as Double Seventh Festival, is another traditional festival in China, which is celebrated on July 7th in lunar calendar every year and is particularly popular among young valentines.
About the origin of this festival, there comes a legend. It was told that there was a poor cow boy, who felt in love with a weaving girl, 7th daughter of Emperor of Heaven. They lived a happy life and had two babies. When the Emperor of Heaven heard this, he got angry and took the weaving girl back to heaven, while the cowboy held the hands of the weaving girl tightly. Seeing this, the Emperor of Heaven drew the silver river with his hairpin between them and they were separated eventually. The weaving girl was forced to move to the star Vega and the cowboy moved to the star Altair. They are allowed to meet only once a year on the day of 7th day of July lunar month.
It was legendarily told that on the Double Seventh Day, people could see the weaving girl and cowboy's dating on the Silver River. If you hide yourself under the fruit trellis, you might overhear the honey conversations between cowboy and weaving girl on this night.

On the Chinese Valentine's Day, people in love usually go to the Matchmaker's Temple to pray for their love and possible marriage. People still single will do the same thing to ask for good luck of love in the Matchmaker's temple. On this romantic night, girls usually set tables with fruits displayed to pray for intelligence and sweet love.

Mid-autumn Day

Mid-autumn day, another traditional festival in China, is celebrated on August 15th in lunar calendar every year. On the mid-autumn day, the full moon will appear which symbolizes reunion in Chinese cultures, so the mid-autumn day is also called Reunion Festival. Since mid-autumn day is an important festival in China, there are some traditional customs for this festival.

Moon worship is a quite time-honored tradition in China, which could be traced back to Zhou dynasty in ancient Chinese history. This tradition has been passed down from generation to generation. In modern times, people usually display moon cakes as well as other fruits on the table in the yard. After eating moon cakes, they will retreat the table and eat the worshiped moon cakes with family members to pray for health and happiness.
Appreciating the moon is another activity for the mid-autumn day. On the night of mid-autumn day, the moon is particularly round and bright. Families will sit together and appreciate the moon while eating moon cakes. On this night, people far away from home would be quite homesick and they would express best wishes for their family while watching the moon alone.

The delicately-shaped moon cake is a must-have for the Mid-autumn Day, which is made of flour filled with various kinds of fillings like nuts, eggs, beans and fruits. Since full moon symbolizes family reunion in Chinese reunion, moon cakes are usually round-shaped. That is why eating moon cakes on mid-autumn day could arouse the missing of distant relatives.

Chongyang Festival (Double Ninth Festival)

Held on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, Chongyang Festival is also called Double Ninth Festival. There is no holiday for this traditional festival. In Chinese, nine is regarded as the number of Yang (which means masculine as opposed to Yin which is feminine). The ninth day of the ninth month is the day that has two Yang numbers, and 'chong' in Chinese means double which is how the name Chongyang was created. It is a day for people to eat Chongyang cake, drink chrysanthemum wine, climb mountains, and pay homage to chrysanthemums.
Just as other Chinese festivals have their own unique story, so does the Chongyang Festival. It is said that, during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220), a devil inhabited the Nu River which caused disease in the neighboring people. The parent of a young man, named Hengjing, died because of the devil's magic. In order to rid the people of the devil, Hengjing went through extraordinary lengths to find an immortal to teach him swordsmanship in order to expel the devil.

On the eighth day of the ninth lunar month, the immortal told Hengjing that the next day the devil would appear and he was to go back to get rid of the devil and the disease. Taking a bag of dogwood and some chrysanthemum wine, Hengjing returned to his hometown. In the morning of the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, Hengjing led all the villagers who were each holding a piece of dogwood leaf and a cup of Chrysanthemum to the nearest mountain. At noon, when the devil came out from the Nu River, the devil suddenly stopped because of the fragrance emitted from the dogwood and the chrysanthemum wine. At that moment Hengjing used the sword to battle the devil for a few rounds and won.

Since then the custom of climbing mountains, drinking chrysanthemum wine and holding onto dogwood on the ninth day of the ninth month have become popular.

During the festival, Chongyang cake and chrysanthemum wine is the traditional cuisine. Climbing mountains and admiring beautiful chrysanthemums are interesting events that add to the festival creating a joyous atmosphere.
Chongyang Cake is a kind of steamed cake having two layers with nuts and jujube sandwiched between them. Since cake in Chinese is pronounced 'gao' meaning high, people consider climbing a high mountain to be the same as eating cake. Also personal progress is thought to be made in the following days after eating the cake, for 'high' means that one makes improvements moving to a higher level.

Drinking Chrysanthemum wine is an indispensable part of the festival. Chrysanthemums are regarded as a kind of flower having the function of an antitoxin and can drive the evil away. People often think that by drinking chrysanthemum wine, all kinds of diseases and disasters can be cured and prevented.

It is said that by ascending to a high mountain, diseases could be prevented. Many widely-known poems were created by poets in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) describing the scene and feeling of mountain climbing. Now, family relatives or good friends gather to climb mountains to enjoy the beautiful scenery and share happiness of the holiday with each other.

As chrysanthemums blossom during the festival, it is a pleasure to admire the various chrysanthemums in parks. Grand chrysanthemum exhibitions are held in big parks that attract numerous visitors.
The custom as wear dogwood - a kind of plant that can dispel the disaster in people's values – was popular in the old days. Women and children like to wear a fragrant pouch with dogwood sewed in. However, this custom is currently not very popular at all.

New Meaning of Chongyang Festival

As nine is pronounced 'jiu' meaning long in Chinese, so people endow the word jiu with the meaning of longevity with a person's life. In the year of 1989, Chongyang Festival was designated as Senior's Day - a day to respect the elderly and to let them enjoy themselves. Many companies organize groups where retired people can go out to climb mountains or on other outings. Members of a family also accompany their elders to have a relaxing day in a natural setting while wishing health and happiness upon them.

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice, one of the 24 Solar Terms, is a traditional Chinese festival. It usually falls on December 21st, 22nd or 23rd instead of on a fixed day. There is no holiday for this festival. On that day, the northern hemisphere has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime. After that, areas in this hemisphere have longer days and shorter nights.

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), Chinese people identified the day with an ancient tool named an Earth Sundial. Throughout Chinese ancient times, it played an important part as an influential festival, as the proverb goes “Winter Solstice is as important as Spring Festival”.

History

According to historical records, Winter Solstice was regarded as the starting point of a new year during the Zhou and Qin dynasties (1046 – 207 BC). The custom has persisted and people presently call it the Small New Year, when ancestor worshipping ceremonies and family reunions usually happen. In the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), it began to be celebrated as a festival, for which people had official holidays. The officials held grand ceremonies and common people exchanged various gifts for celebration. During the Tang and Song Dynasties (618 - 1279), emperors worshiped heaven and their ancestors on that day to pray for a good harvest for their people. People kowtowed to their parents and offered sacrifices to their ancestors. By the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911), it was a custom for emperors to worship heaven. The well-preserved Temple of Heaven in Beijing was constructed for that reason.

Dining Customs

Dumplings are the most essential and popular food for Winter Solstice, especially in northern China. There is a legend that Zhang Zhongjing, a renowned medical scientist at the end of Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220), found his fellow-townsman suffering from coldness and hunger when he returned from his position of prefecture chief in winter. More severely, many of them had terrible chilblains in the ears. On the Winter Festival, he cooked food named Jiao Er with a stuffing of medicine and other ingredients fending off the cold to feed these people, and they recovered soon. Later people learned to make the food to create the present dumplings. Meanwhile, the saying that one’s ears will be frozen if he doesn’t have dumplings on the Winter Solstice was widespread till today.

Nowadays, there are different customs in southern and northern China.

North part: As a popular saying goes in northern China that ‘Have dumplings for Winter Solstice and noodles for Summer Solstice’, dumplings have been a must for the festival. If you happen to confront the day in China, go to the restaurant early, or there will be no dumplings left. Some eat wontons or steamed stuffed buns on that day.
South part: Sticky puddings (sweet dumplings) and Tsampa are more popular for locals in south China. In their mind, the round shape of sticky dumplings symbolizes a family reunion. There are other customs; for instance, in Jiangnan area (the southern part of the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River), people have ormosia glutinous rice food and in Hangzhou, rice cakes with various flavors are most welcomed.

Aside from these, it’s said that in some areas, people also have mutton, noodles or drink winter wine for celebration. These are all hot food to help keep warm and avoid catching cold.

Sayings about Weather

The Nines of Winter (Shu Jiu) is a common custom for the festival. It refers to the nine periods of nine days each following the Winter Solstice. After that, it becomes warmer and spring will be around the corner. The folk song below not only records the weather changes, but also shows the law of farming: People cannot even put their hands in cold air in the first and second nine days; walking on ice can be achieved in the third and fourth nine days; willows on the banks start to sprout in the fifth and sixth nine days; ices dissolve and water flows freely in the river in the seventh nine days; in the eighth nine days, wild geese fly back to northern areas, and for the following days, farm cattle start to work in the field.

Laba Festival (Rice Porridge Festival)

Falling on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, Laba Festival was originally an occasion for people to give sacrifices to their ancestors, and to pray to heaven and earth for a good harvest and good luck for the family. There is no holiday for this traditional festival. Many years later, it has become a Laba rice porridge eating event - a porridge that contains different types of rice, beans, dried nuts, bean curd, and meat.

The 12th lunar month is called 'La' in Chinese and eight is pronounced 'ba', which is how the name 'Laba' was derived. It is not only regarded as a day of sacrifice, but also the day on which Sakyamuni (founder of Buddhism) realized truth and became a Buddha.

Legend of Laba Festival

It is said that Laba rice porridge originated from India. As the son of a king in the north of ancient India, Sakyamuni could not bear the local people's suffering from illness and the theocracy ruled by Brahman (one of the four Indian classes). As a result, he abandoned his lofty position and went out to seek a way to enlighten himself according to religious doctrine. After six years of enduring a very hard life and self-torture, he realized the truth of Buddhism while sitting under the bodhi tree on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month. It is remembered that during these six years, Sakyamuni only ate rice every day. So by eating porridge on the eighth day of the 12th month every year people commemorate him.

Eating Laba Rice Porridge Custom

The custom first originated in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) and became popular in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). Now it has been over one thousand years that the Chinese people eat Laba porridge on Laba Festival day. As is known to all, since ancient times Chinese people have attached great importance to growing crops, so when the land bears a good harvest after years of hard work, the farmers will show great appreciation by sacrificing to the ancestors, and heaven and earth. Boiling Laba porridge is one way people celebrate their harvest.

The ingredients of Laba porridge are various items that are full of nutrition. It is made of diversified rice (glutinous rice, oats, corns etc.), beans (soy beans, mung beans, kidney beans, cowpeas etc.), dried nuts (chestnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc.), bean curd and meat. Melon seeds, lotus seeds, pine nuts, sugar, and other preserved fruits are added to give more flavors. After 10 centuries of development, there are now over one hundred different cooking methods.

After hours of boiling, the porridge is offered as a sacrifice to the ancestors and is presented to friends before noon. Family members eat Laba porridge together and leave some, symbolizing a good harvest next year. Some kind people hand out the porridge to the poor to show their pity. And in some regions people believe that pasting porridge on the flowers and fruit trees indicates the blossom of flowers and good fruition.

Laba porridge is now regarded as a very nutritious food in winter that has the function of strengthening the spleen, stimulating the appetite, and soothing the nerves. It is welcomed by all people of different ages.