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Chinese Festivals and Holidays
Eleven days are celebrated as public holidays in the People’s Republic of China and employees don’t have to work on these days. These holidays are New Year’s Day (1 January), the Spring Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day, Labor Day (1 May), the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and National Day (1–3 October).
Some of these holidays have fixed dates, while others move depending on the lunar calendar. The Spring Festival and National Day are celebrated with three days of public holiday each; every other public holiday is for one day only. The Chinese government decides on the schedule for the next year’s public holidays in December of the preceding year. If possible, public holidays are usually scheduled before or after weekends to create long weekends.
Greeting the New Year
Spring Festival, also known as Lunar New Year, is the grandest Chinese festival of the year. It ushers in the beginning of the new year and is celebrated for the first 15 days of the first lunar month. Employees have off work for the first three days of the festivities. Many people take a few extra days to have off an entire week. In 2015, the Chinese Year of the Sheep began on 19 February.
During this Chinese festival, there are firework displays and parades featuring dancers dressed as dragons. Houses are thoroughly cleaned to usher in fresh beginnings for the coming year. Children receive new clothes and money in red envelopes — the red color is for good luck. The gates in front of houses are decorated with red scrolls inscribed with poetic couplets. Paper-cut pictures are stuck on the windows and the Chinese character Fu (happiness) is pasted at the center of the door.
Families gather together for this Chinese festival and eat a whole chicken, symbolizing family unity. Other traditional Spring Festival foods are long, thin noodles which stand for longevity, fish (the Mandarin word sounds like “abundance”), clams and spring rolls (their shape represents wealth), as well as candies, fruit, and roasted nuts and seeds. It is taboo to mention words like “sickness” or “death” during this Chinese festival, as that would be a bad omen for the new year.
Honoring the Ancestors
This Chinese festival is also known as Qing Ming Festival, Mourning Day, or the Pure Brightness Festival. The day is a mixture of sadness and happiness, as the focus is on honoring and worshipping one’s ancestors, as well as on enjoying the beginning of spring. Tomb-Sweeping Day is always celebrated on 5 April (4 April during leap years).
Traditionally, Chinese families gather together to clean the weeds off their ancestors’ tombs, bring flowers, and make sacrifices of the deceased person’s favorite food and wine. This is then burned along with “ghost money” (paper resembling money), to make sure the ancestor is not left wanting for food or money. With the rapid urbanization of China and the increased prevalence of cremations, flowers and prayers are often offered to ancestors instead of the traditional tomb cleaning.
This is also a day to take a pleasant spring outing and fly kites. These kites are flown throughout the day and also in the evening, when small lanterns are tied to them, making them resemble twinkling stars in the sky. Cutting the kite free is said to bring good luck.
Commemorating a Patriotic Poet
This Chinese festival is celebrated to venerate the great patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who threw himself into the river rather than see his homeland overrun by invading forces. It is also known as the Double Fifth Festival, as it is observed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (20 June in 2015). On this day, many boat races will take place throughout China in boats shaped like dragons. Families will eat zongzi, pyramid-shaped dumplings of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves and filled with jujube, bean paste, or meat.
Admiring the Harvest Moon
Also known as the Moon Festival, this holiday is the time to admire the great, shining harvest moon. It is the second-largest Chinese festival after the Spring Festival. It is celebrated each year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. In 2015, this falls on 27 September. Traditional customs include hanging out paper lanterns, watching firework displays, offering sacrifices to the moon, and eating yue bing (moon cakes). These sweet cakes are filled with sesame seeds, lotus seeds, dates, etc. Their round shape symbolizes family reunion. They are given as gifts to friends and families to wish them a long and happy life.
Celebrating the Republic
National Day is observed on 1 October each year to celebrate the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Employees have off work from 1–3 October, but many Chinese people take off the entire week. This week is also known as Golden Week, as it is a very profitable week for the domestic tourism industry. As all tourist sites and public transportation will be extremely crowded during this week, it is probably advisable to do your own sightseeing at other times of the year.
On National Day, there is always a big military review and parade on Tiananmen Square, as well as flag-raising celebrations, dance and song shows, and firework displays throughout the country.
For Women, Youths, and Soldiers: Special Holidays
In addition to the eleven official public holidays where all employees have off work, there are a few days reserved for certain groups of people. These are:
- Women’s Day (8 March): women can take off half a day
- Youth Day: youths above 14 years of age enjoy a half day off
- Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Liberation Army (1 August): active military get a half day off
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