to the Most Fascinating Chinese Festivals of All time
Chinese culture is rich and varied with many historical customs, traditions and festivals we've never heard of in the West. While you may be familiar with Chinese New Year, have you ever heard of the Dragon Boat Festival or tried your hand at baking (or even just eating) a traditional Chinese mooncake? As part of our dive into culture, LingoClass wants to explore these topics with you to give you a more thorough understanding of the Chinese way of life and helping you to truly immerse yourself in this beautiful language.
Chinese New Year
January / February
Chinese New Year is China's largest and most well known festival by far. The word for this festival in Mandarin is Qun Jie, which literally translates to "Spring Festival". Chinese New Year is in fact a celebration of spring time and all the new life that comes with it.
Based around the Chinese lunar calendar, Chinese New Year is not just one day but a month of different events that culminate in the Lantern Festival. With most of the country getting around 2 weeks off work, it's a time for reuniting with family and taking the opportunity for travel.
Key traditions during this period include gathering for large family meals, thoroughly cleaning your house to prepare for the year ahead and large fireworks displays. There is also a huge TV event held on New Years Eve each year featuring celebrities, game shows, performances and more. This is the most watched TV event in China and is available in many other countries if you're interested in checking it out.
China is truly beautiful during this season with parades through lantern lined streets an everyday occurrence. If you ever get the opportunity to go and see for yourself we thoroughly recommend doing so!
Mid Autumn Festival
Chinese Mid Autumn Festival, or Moon Cake Festival as it's often known, is held every September and is a traditional reunion time for families, much like Christmas or Thanksgiving in the West. Coinciding with the brightest full moon of the year, it's often said the Mid Autumn Festival is China's second most important festive event after Chinese New Year.
During the celebrations, people gather for large meals, light lanterns, admire the moon and eat special delicacies called moon cakes. These cakes are usually made of intricately decorated pastry and contain all number of fillings from red beans to duck eggs. You can even get wasabi flavoured ones!
As with many Chinese festivals, the Moon Cake Festival comes with a story. Legend has it that a beautiful girl named Chang'e went to live on the moon with her rabbit. She resides there to this day and if you look carefully you can still see her shape on the surface of the moon, watching over the Earth. You can learn the full story below.
Unlike the other festivals in this list, Singles Day is a relatively new event with no historical or traditional basis. In fact, it was developed as a response to couple centric holidays such as Valentine's Day as a way to celebrate being single. The reason it falls on the 11th of November is because the date reads 11/11 and the character 1 represents a single person with no additional branches on their family tree.
Since its conception in 1993, Singles Day or the Double 11 Festival has evolved into China's largest and most popular shopping holiday with online e-commerce powerhouses such as Alibaba, Taobao and even Amazon offering substantial discounts for a 24 hour period. Think of Black Friday on steroids. Alibaba alone sold RMB 84.5 billion worth of goods on this day in 2021.
While not officially recognised as a public holiday in China, many companies celebrate this event as a festival. Decorations and advertisements can be seen all over China and it has a vast influence over Chinese culture during this period. Following the commercial success of this holiday in Asia, international e-commerce platforms have even tried to promote the event in other countries. Why not see if you can grab a bargain this November?
Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival is held on the 5th Day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Steeped in tradition, the exact origins of the festival are unknown. Likely having its roots in historical dragon worship, the festival has been said to commemorate the lives of a number of Chinese royals throughout the ages.
The most famous legend surrounding the celebrations involves a famous poet named Qu Yuan. The story says he was loved by the people and when he drowned in a river, the residents of his town all came and threw glutinous rice into the river so the fish would eat that instead of consuming his body. This story is referenced in the modern day tradition of eating glutinous rice parcels called zongzi to celebrate the festival.
As the name suggests, the Dragon Boat Festival is also celebrated by racing dragon boats. These beautiful and ornate boats are raced on rivers up and down the country. There is a special 3 day weekend held for the event and coverage of the largest races can be watched on TV. Again this tradition is said to relate to the story of Qu Yuan as villagers climbed into dragon boats and raced to try and pull him from the river.
Chinese Valentine's Day
It may surprise you to know that China has its own version of Valentine's day on which they celebrate love. This festival is known as Qixi or "seventh night" in Mandarin and is celebrated on the 7th night of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
As in the West this day is an occasion to exchange gifts, have romantic meals and look to the future. Proposals and weddings around this time are very popular as the date signifies a long and happy relationship that's written in the stars. Perhaps this year you can get your significant other a gift on this day and look to the future together :)
The legend behind this festival follows the story of the cow heard and the weaver girl, whose love was forbidden by the queen of heaven. She tried to separate them by placing a river of stars in between them but their love was saved when the magpies built a bridge and allowed them to see each other every year, on the seventh night of the seventh month of the year. You can find out more about the full story below!
Now you understand everything you need to know about Chinese festivals, why not try to improve your Chinese language skills?
We offer group and private courses for all levels. You can take these courses either online or face to face at our London offices where you'll meet lots of other Chinese language learners!