Chinese Festivals: Getting into the festive spirit

Last Monday, Chinese and non-Chinese alike all over the world came together in celebration for one of China’s oldest festivals; the Mid-Autumn Festival.

For those who had ventured down to Chinatown, a spectacular visual display was awaiting them; lanterns laced the sky under the backdrop of the plump moon, whilst street stands were decorated with an abundant array of moon cakes.

But this is not the only important Chinese festival; there are many other festivals which have grown in popularity outside of China, each with their own unique customs and origins.


Mid-Autumn Festival Blog 14 Fest 11

15th day of the eight month on the Chinese calendar.

Mid-Autumn festival is a traditional Chinese harvest festival celebrating the three concepts of thanksgiving, gathering (with one’s family) and praying/worship. It is a public holiday and considered to be the second most important festival in Chinese culture. People usually release lanterns, observe the moon and eat moon cakes.

Chinese name
中秋节: Zhōngqiū Jié (Zhong-chiou-jeh)
中(Mid); 秋(Autumn); 节 (Festival)

月饼 – Yuebing (Youeh bing) Moon cake
月(Moon); 饼(Cake)

赏月 – Shangyue (Shang youeh) Moon watching 
赏 (Admire) ; 月 (Moon)

Chang’e (Chang euh)
Moon deity in Chinese culture who is worshipped during this festival.

Spring Festival Blog 14 fest 1

Last day of the last month on the Chinese calendar.
The most important festival and celebration in Chinese culture, Chinese Spring Festival aka Chinese New Year celebrates reunion, happiness, saying farewell to the past and welcoming in the New Year. It lasts for approximately two weeks filled with a variety of celebrations from fireworks, gathering with family and friends and giving red envelopes. Due to its deep cultural significance in China it has also gained great recognition in neighbouring Asian cultures and in countries with large Chinese diaspora.

Chinese name
春节 Chun Jié (Qhun-jeh)
春 (Spring); 节 (Festival)

烟花 – Yānhuā (Yen hwa) Fireworks
烟 (Fire); 花 (Flower)
Lanterns hold a strong symbolic meaning in Chinese culture; letting go of the past and good fortune.

红包 – Hóngbāo (Hong bow) Red envelope
包 (Envelope)
A red envelope containing money is given to children.

年 – Nián (Nee-an)
According to Chinese mythology, Spring Festival began from a fight with a mythical creature called ‘Nian’. Nian would come on the first day of the new year and eat the villagers’ livestock and children. But the villagers soon realised it feared the colour red so began decorating lanterns red and using firecrackers to scare it away.

Dragon Boat Festival 

The 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar.
Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Jie, is a traditional festival celebrating the image of th dragon and the famous poet Qu Yuan, through activities such as Dragon boat racing and eating sticky rice dumplings called Zongzi.

Chinese name
端午节 – Duanwu Jié (Dwan- wu-jeh)
端午(Dragon boat); 节 (Festival)

龙船 – Long chuan (Long chu-en) Dragon boat racing
龙 (Dragon); 船(Boat)

粽子Zongzi (Zong zeugh) Sticky rice dumplings
粽 (Rice dumplings)

Qu yuan (Chu you-en)
A famous poet and minister during the Zhou dynasty, many people hold that the festival commemorates his death.It is also said that his drowning in the river led to the origin of dragon boat racing, as people rushed out in their boats to save him. Sticky rice dumplings were dropped into the sea in order for the fish to disdain from eating his body, thus leading to the eating of Zong zi.

Lantern Festival Blog 14 fest 4

The fifteenth day on the first month of the lunar calendar (usually February or March in the Gregorian calendar).
The lantern festival marks the last day of the lunar New Year celebration where adults and children go out at night to release paper lanterns, solve riddles and eat sweet rice balls typically filled with sweet red bean paste, sesame paste, or peanut butter.

Chinese name
元宵节 – Yuanxiao Jie (You-en xhao jeh)  
元 (First); 宵 (Night); 节 (Festival)

汤圆 – Tāngyuán (Tang you-en) Sweet rice balls
汤 (Soup); 圆 (Dumplings)
The rice balls are usually eaten in soup, which symbolises togetherness and family.

灯谜 – Dēngmí (Dung me) Lantern riddles
灯 (Lantern); 谜 (Riddles)
Riddles are written on the side of each lantern and if guessed correctly the lantern owner gives them a gift.

There are many different beliefs as to the true origin of the Lantern Festival. One origin story is that a Han dynasty emperor saw how Buddhist monks lit lanterns to pray for Buddha on the fifteenth on the first month. In order to respect Buddha, he ordered lanterns to be lit across the whole country.

Now you know your ‘yuebing’ from your ‘zongzi’, so remember to mark the next festival in your calender!


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