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Traditional Chinese Festivals - Spring, Lantern, Dragon Boat, Mid-Autumn


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.

China is a country with many ethnic groups and a rich cultural heritage. Of all the traditional festivals, perhaps the most popular ones are the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-autumn Festival.


A. The Spring Festival

The Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year, is the most important traditional festival in China, which takes place in late January or early February. The historical reason for beginning the year during cold weather is that it is the time between the "autumn harvest and winter storage" and "spring plowing and summer weeding". In other words, this is the time for rest and relaxation after a year's toil, and for celebration as well.

In addition to the practical reasons of having the Spring Festival during the cold months, a Chinese folklore offers another explanation. According to Chinese legends, a demon called Nian would torment people once a year during the winter. The people gathered to discuss how to deal with Nian. Some people suggested that the demon was afraid of the red colour, flames and loud noises. So they put red couplets on their gates, set off firecrackers and heat gongs and drums to drive Nian away. Their ideas worked and Nian fled. Thus, the customs of celebrating the Spring Festival were born and passed down.

During the month of January or February, Chinese families clean their houses, set off firecrackers, past pictures of the Door God and couplets tm their gates. On the eve of the Spring Festival, it is a folk custom to stay up late or all night to pray for peace and prosperity in the coming year. The New Year is ushered in at mid-night. A get-together banquet is usually a must for every Chinese family. The most popular food enjoyed by both the rich and poor is Jiaozi, or dumplings, which is supposed to bring good fortune.

On the first day of the New Year, everybody wears new clothes and greets relatives and friends with bows and gongxi (congratulations), wishing each other the best during the new year.
In recent years, the Spring Festival has become a public holiday. People usually have several free days for attending family dinners, traveling, going to the movies or concerts or just watching holiday special TV programs.


B. The Lantern Festival

The fifteenth day of the first lunar month is also an important traditional festival in China where various types of lanterns are exhibited. Lanterns are indifferent shapes and colors. They are made of paper, gauze, silk or plastic in the shapes of fish, frogs, homes, rabbits, roses, lotus flowers, or even gods. Each year's lantern exhibition takes one animal as the theme, the animal which is designated by the Chinese lunar calendar for the year. For example, in the Year of Dragon, the dragon-theme lanterns are seen every-where. The lantern exhibition is a custom that has persisted throughout history. In recent years, the increase in living standards has led to various splendid lantern exhibitions all over the country. Such occasions are colourful and present picture-perfect-scenes with the bright moon shining down on hundreds of colourful lanterns. In addition to lantern exhibitions, the Lantern Festival includes plays, firework displays, acrobatics and dances. The dances are always Chinese and traditional: dragon dances, lion dances, boat dances and lotus dances.

Traditionally, every family eats yuanxao on the night of the Lantern Festival. Yuanxiao, a symbol of family unity, affection and happiness, is a glutinous, rice-flour dough stuffed with sweet stuffings such as sugar and bean paste. Therefore, the Lantern Festival is also called the Yuanxiao Festival. Apart from yuanxiao, people have a grand dinner to mark the end of the Spring Festival celebrations.


C. The Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival, or the Duanwu Festival, falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This Festival is widely accepted as a day to commemorate Qu Yuan, China's greatest poet of the Warring States Period (475B. C. --221 B. C.). People respected Qu Yuan for his efforts to make State of Chu strong and prosperous and for his dedication to such ideals. However, he became frustrated with the status quo and ultimately committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. On the day of Qu Yuan' s death, people rushed from all over, towing boats on the river in an attempt to find his remains, which were thought to have drifted downstream, never to be recovered. But people never give up their hope. This time every year, rowing a fast stroke, they wanted to be the first one to find him. As the result, boat racing has become very popular along the waterways in many southern and eastern cities and towns. On the day of the festival, boats are decorated in the shape of a dragon, with a drum and a gong on each boat to set the pace.

Sometimes foreign friends would come to compete with the Chinese team in strength, teamwork and rowing skills. As part of the festival, people throw rice-filled bamboo tubes into the river as an offering. During the Duanwu Festival, it is also a common practice to eat Zongzi, which is a rice pudding wrapped up with reed leaves. The reed leaves give a special flavour to the food.

Commemoration of Qu Yuan during the Duanwu Festival shows his popularity as a poet and man who made great contributions to his motherland. In 1957, Qu Yuan was selected by the World Peace Council as one of the four cultural figures to be memorized by the world.


D. Mid-autumn Festival

The Mid-autumn Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the eight lunar month because the eight lunar month is mid-autumn and the fifteenth is the middle of that month. On that night the moon is supposed to be brighter and fuller than any other night. In China, a full moon is symbolic of family reunion, which is why that day is also known as the "Day of Reunion".

In ancient China, the moon was considered by scholars as a symbol of brightness, purity and goodness. Poets of the past wrote many beautiful odes to the moon. Not only was the moon an inspiration to writers but it was also a source of many myths and legends. The most popular myth was a story about a woman named Chang E who flew to the moon and lived in the Moon Palace with trees and flowers around. It is believed that she is now happy about the leisure and tranquility on the moon. But from time to time she is missing the earthly life.

During this festival, people eat the moon cake, which is made of wheat flour and sweet stuffings such as sugar and lotus seed powder. The festival is a time for families to gather to burn incense and eat fruits in addition to the moon cake. The cake is traditionally cut into pieces that equal the number of people in the family. Watching the moon is an important part of the Mid-autumn Festival celebrations. At night, people stay out and admire the beauty of the full moon, eating the moon cakes. Delighted by the serenity and tranquility, some people begin to sing classic songs and recite well-known verses. While tradition abounds during this festival, the essence of this festival is the harmony and happiness of family life, which is something that can be understood by all.



From: Beijing Great Wall Travel

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