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China National Festivals

Although the 55 minorities have their own festivals, there are some traditional and significant festivals celebrated by the Chinese nation annually, for example, the Spring Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-autumn Day.

National festivals and holidays are an indispensable part of Chinese history and culture. Most of these festivals are historically significant and reflect the Chinese nation's traditional customs, moral standards and religious beliefs. There is an element of mystery and romance to many of these celebrations that derives from their connection to fairy tales and superstitions.

Chinese Lantern Festival on the City Wall of XianChina has 56 ethnic minority groups which account for the large number of annual festivals. In recent years, many western holidays have achieved some popularity in China. Examples include Christmas, Valentine's Day, April Fools' Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day. These are mostly celebrated by the younger set and in the larger cities. The following describes some of the more important festivals celebrated by the Chinese people.

 Chinese New Year - Spring Festival
This is the grandest and busiest festival in China and is commonly referred to as 'seeing the new year in.' It falls on the first day of the lunar calendar and lasts until the 15th day of the month. On New Year's Eve, families convene to have a luxurious dinner. People in northern China typically will eat dumplings (jiaozi) symbolizing the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year. This occurs because 'jiaozi' sounds like a word meaning 'bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new.' In southern China, people usually eat rice cakes representing that their level of life will become higher. This belief derives from the Chinese pronunciation of rice cake as 'niangao', a homophone for a word meaning 'a higher level of life.' People still burn firecrackers on New Year's Eve and at dawn on New Year's Day although in many areas where fireworks are forbidden, recorded explosive sounds are used. Starting with the second day of the festival, people will call on each other with New Year's gifts with an emphasis on the preparation and consumption of sweets and fruits. Hosts of these get-togethers will thank their guests by preparing an opulent dinner. Not only is there a lively atmosphere in every household, there is partying in the street as well. Every night dragon and lion dances, Shehuo (a traditional folk performance) and flower and lantern fairs occur throughout China especially in the countryside.

 Lantern Festival 
Its origin lies in a mythical story about a sacred bird losing her way and falling to earth where she is accidentally killed by local people. The jade emperor became very angry at this and ordered fires to be set to burn the people and houses on the 15th day of the first lunar month. The emperor's kind-hearted daughter couldn't bear to see innocent people suffer, so she risked her life to come to earth to warn the people of the impending fire. Upon hearing her news the people were duly frightened, but an old man came up with an ingenious idea to save them. On the 15th day of the first lunar month, every family would decorate their houses with lanterns and festoons and set off fireworks making the jade emperor believe that everything was going up in flames. This activity became a folk custom and has flourished through modern times with the festival coinciding with the last day of the Spring Festival. In the evening of this day, people will dine on traditional Chinese fare highlighted by 'Yuanxiao' (rice dumplings made of glutinous rice with various fillings). Other activities include watching lantern parades and solving lantern riddles which are often messages of good fortune, family reunion and prosperity.

Zongzi, food of Chinese Dragon Boat Festival Festival of Pure Brightness 
Also called 'Qingming', it is one of the 24 solar terms or seasonal division points. It falls every April 4-6 when spring is at its fullest and plants are thriving. This festival has elements of sadness and happiness. Families will offer sacrifices and sweep the gravestones of their deceased ancestors. Only cold food is served on this day. Because spring brings mild weather, there is time for people to go outdoors to engage in kite-flying and to play a variety of games.

 Dragon Boat Festival 
Since it falls of the fifth day of the fifth lunar calendar, this festival is also named Double Fifth Day. Most of the activities on this day commemorate Qu Yuan, one of the greatest poets of ancient China. Throughout the country families will eat 'zongzi' (pyramid-shaped dumplings made of glutinous rice and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves). In much of the country, especially in the south, dragon boat races are held to honor Qu Yuan as well. Additionally, the dragon boat festival is a celebration of health. Most families will hang artemisia branches and calamus leaves on the doors and walls. They will also splash realgar water on the floors to sterilize their house and drink realgar wine to prevent disease.

 Qixi - Double Seventh Festival
This is China's version of Valentine's Day. It originated from the Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. It is based on a romantic legend passed down from generation to generation. It tells of a cowboy on earth named Niulang who fell in love with a beautiful fairy in the heavens named Zhinv who had the appearance of a star. They married secretly, had a son and a daughter and lived a happy family life together. However, these sublime conditions did not last long. The Jade Emperor was enraged after learning of this forbidden union between the mortal and the celestial being. He sent the empress to forcibly bring the fairy back to the heavens. Meanwhile, the cowboy carrying his two children set off in pursuit of the empress. This enraged the empress who took her hairpin and slashed it across the sky creating the Milky Way which precluded the cowboy from finding his wife. However, tens of thousands of magpies were so moved by the couple's plight, they formed a bridge across the Milky Way and the husband and wife were reunited. The jade emperor relented and allowed the couple to meet once a year on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month. On that night people traditionally would look into the sky and find a bright star in the constellation as well as the brilliant star Vega and likened them to Niulang and Zhinu. Because Zhinu was a skilled seamstress, Qixi is highlighted by sewing competitions among young women.

 Mid-Autumn Day
This festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar calendar month which is the middle of autumn. According to folklore, this day is the birthday of the moon and the moon on this particular night is more perfectly round than on any other night during the year. Offering sacrifices to the moon, eating moon cakes and watching the moon are the main activities of this festival. Traditionally, moon cakes were made of sweet bean-paste filling, with golden brown flaky skin, but nowadays, there are more than a dozen variations, including bean pasted, yolk pasted, coconut pasted, five-core pasted and so on. When the moon appears, housewives will set up an incense burner table in the middle of their courtyards. They will then put moon cakes, watermelons, apples, red dates, grapes and plums on the table as sacrificial offerings. Later, family members will sit together and eat all this food while watching the moon.

Chinese Lantern Festival, Xian Chongyang
This festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. 'Nine' is the biggest of the Arabic numbers and it has the same Chinese pronunciation as the word 'jiu' meaning 'a long time or life.' It has become a festival honoring older people. It is celebrated by seniors communing with nature. In particular, participants enjoy the blooming chrysanthemums and drink chrysanthemum wine.

 Winter Solstice
This is another festival over 2,000 years old with origins in the Han Dynasty. To this day, our Taiwan compatriots still observe the tradition of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors. In northern China people dine on dumplings and won ton soup while in the south, rice dumplings and long noodles are popular on this day.

 Laba Festival
This is also named 'Buddahood' Festival because it supposedly falls on the day when Sakyamuni became Buddha. Eating 'Eight Porridge', a very nutritious dish, is the focal point of the celebration. Originally, the porridge was made with rice and red beans. Later the recipe grew more complex. Now, the main ingredients are various types of rice and millet and a wide assortment of nuts and dried fruits. The porridge cooks all night long and has an enticing aroma that can be savored from a great distance. Laba is also the day to offer sacrifices to the divinities and ancestor, and to pray for bountiful harvests and auspicious events in the coming year.

 Golden Weeks
While technically not festivals, 'Golden Weeks' were implemented by the government in 1999. These are week-long vacations on Labor Day and National Day intended to increase domestic demand and stimulate consumption. Adding the Spring Festival to these brings the total to three golden weeks during the year. These three holidays are designated as three days off combined with two weekends, of which one weekend is adjusted from the former or the following week. With seven days off in all, people are provided enough time to visit, travel, relax and enjoy time away from work. During the long holidays, travel and shopping have become center-stage activities throughout China.