INTRODUCTION: China is a county with a long history of about 5,000 years. In its ever-forward history course there have developed a good number of traditional festivals that are of rich varieties and long standing. The culture of festivals rooted deeply in the people, and it thus shows its enormous vitality. In spite of the change of times, it has gradually become part of the heritages of the colorful Chinese culture.The generation and development of festivals is a course of their shaping, perfecting and then their gradual integrating with the social life. It is the result of the social development that has reached a certain stage. The increasing productive force of the society, the ever-improving conditions of people’s life, and the emergence and frequency of the religious activities has all provided a stage for the emerging and developing of festivals. Most of the traditional festivals in ancient China had something to do with the development of astronomy, calendar and mathematics. The beginning of these traditional festivals was particularly related to the later decided 24 seasonal division point under the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. All of the 24 seasonal divisions had almost been settled by the time of Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220). These divisions helped to form festivals, for in their work and life, people developed different customs and activities that can express their good wishes according to the yearly change of seasons and natural phenomena. Based on these customs and activities, Chinese festivals began to take their shapes.
CHINESE NEW YEAR: Every year when winter is about to end and spring is coming; the Chinese always grandly celebrate the first traditional festival in a year – The Spring Festival (New Year of lunar calendar). It can be called the grandest and most exciting festival for the Chinese, containing a long history and rich cultural connotations. On New Year, people visited each other; high officials gave each other their cards or went to each other’s houses. Common people paid attention to reciprocal courtesy, presenting gifts and paying New Year visits to one another. During the period of New Year, all kinds of recreations were carried out – lion dance, playing of fireworks, dragon dance, drama playing, story telling, high stilts playing, land boats racing, etc… Children especially like spending Spring Festival because they can get money on New Year’s Eve, which is called Ya Sui money given to children by elders. The money should be daintily put in a red paper envelope and will be distributed to minor juniors. Many regions hold temple fair, which is a traditional way to celebrate. It generally lasts from the first to the seventh of the first lunar month.
Shou Sui means not to sleep on the last night of a year and to stay up all nights to welcome a new year.
There is an interesting story among common folks for many generations about the origin of the custom. In time immemorial, a kind of fierce and strange beast lived in deep mountains and thick forests appearance and savage character, eating everything from snap bug to living humans and changing its diet everyday, which people got to know the regularity of Nian’s activities. Every 365 days it went to a human community to eat them, and it usually appeared after sunset and would go back to mountain or forest when roosters crowed dawn. Counting the exact date of Nian’s coming and indulgence, folks considered that night as a junction of torture which is called Nian Guan in Chinese, and that they thought out a whole set of ways to get through that night. When the night came, every family made dinner early, extinguished fire and cleaned over, looked the door to all chicken pens and bullpens, sealed front and back door of the house, and had Hogmanay dinner in the house. Since people didn’t know what would happen after this dinner, it was extremely sumptuous. Not only that every family member had to dine together around a table to show harmony and reunion, but that before dinner, they had to pay respect to ancestors for their blessing to help them get through the night. After dinner, no one dared sleep but all huddled together and chatted to gain courage. This gradually comes to be the custom of staying up on New Year’s Eve. During Spring Festival, each region has its local traditional entertainments.
LANTERN FESTIVAL: The 15th day of the lunar month is the traditional Chinese Yuanxiao Festival. Because the first lunar month is also called “yuan” month; the night of the 15th day of yuan month is the first night that the moon gets full; xiao means “night,” so the festival is named Yuanxiao Festival or Shangyuan Festival, Yuanxiao Festival or Lantern Festival. The Chinese people have a custom of enjoying lanterns on Lantern Festival, which is said as “holding ceremonies of festival lanterns on the 15th day of the first lunar month.” The custom come from the Taoist “Theory of Three Yuan”: the 15th day of the first lunar month is Shangyuan Festival; that of the seventh lunar month is Zhongyuan Festival; and that of the tenth lunar month is Xiayuan Festival. These three yuan are in the charge of three officials: heaven, earth and human world respectively. The official of heaven likes joyful things, so lanterns should be lit on Shangyuan Festival. The custom of lighting lanterns on Lantern Festival has already appeared in the Han Dynasty. After generations of development, more and more varieties of lanterns come into being and the forms of playing vary too, for example, there are mirror-like lanterns, phoenix lanterns, colored glaze lanterns, people also set off fireworks to go with the festival atmosphere. That “Shining trees and sparkling fireworks weaves an unsleeping night” is the description of the beautiful scenes on the night of Lantern Festival.
DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL: About the origin of Dragon Boat Festival there are a lot of versions, the most influential one of which is that it is a festival that commemorates Qu Yuan. This version has almost been taken as a common sense among the Chinese people. Qu Yuan (c. 340-278 BC) was a senior state official in the state of Chu in the Warring States Period. Among the seven states then (Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei and Qin), Qin was the most powerful one and it intended to conquer the other six and dominate China. Qu’s capability won the recognition of Huaiwang (Huai King of Chu). However, Qu’s opinion that Chu should carry out a political reform and cooperate with the other states to fight against Qin met opposition from his fellow officials. They spoke ill of Qu before Huaiwang, and as a result, Huaiwang gradually became estranged from Qu, and finally he drove Qu out of the capital of Chu. Finally, Chu was defeated by Qin. Grieved and indignant, Qu Yuan jumped into Miluo River and ended his life. That day was the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in 278 BC. When people got the news that Qu Yuan had drowned himself, they all got very sad and rowed to get his dead body but failed. To save the body from the fish, people threw food into the river to distract their attention. From then on, people always row dragon boats on rivers to mourn over Qu Yuan on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year. Moreover, they fill the bamboo cans with rice and throw them into rivers as a memorial ceremony. It was said that once someone met Qu Yuan by the river and Qu said, “The food you gave me has been robbed by the dragon. You’d better wrap the rice with bamboo or reed leaves and fasten it with colored threads, for these things are what dragons are most afraid of.” Since then, people began to commemorate Qu Yuan with zongzi which are made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, and thus zongzi become the traditional food
MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL: According to the Chinese calendar, the seventh, eighth and ninth lunar months belong to autumn. The eighth lunar month is in the middle of autumn, and the 15th of the eighth month is in the middle of the month, so the festival is called “Mid-Autumn Festival.” In autumn it is usually clear and cool and there are seldom wandering clouds in the sky, so the moon is particularly bright and clear at night. It is on the night of the 15th day in the eighth lunar month that the moon becomes full, so it is the golden time for people to enjoy the moon. The full moon is considered as a symbol of reunion. Therefore Mid-Autumn Festival is also called “the Reunion Festival,” and it is a traditional festival only second to the Spring Festival.
The Mid-Autumn Festival has had a long history, and offering sacrifices to the moon and enjoy the moonlight were very important customs. Like eating zongzi on the Dragon Boat Festival and eating tangyuan on the Lantern Festival, eating moon cakes on Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional Chinese custom. The moon cake is round, which signifies “tuanyuan” (reunion; in Chinese “round” is “yuan”), so it is also called “tuanyuan cake” in some places. Moon cakes are the essentials of Mid-Autumn Festival.