The word holiday is generally used to refer to any day set aside by a nation or culture to celebrate a special observance or activity. Some are religious, others are honorary, and while there are a few holidays observed annually by numerous cultures, there are also those which are indigenous.
For the Chinese, their holidays fall into two categories, official and traditional. Their first official public holiday is New Year’s Day (January 1). Because the day is overshadowed by the upcoming Chinese New Year, the festivities are rather low key in comparison. The next public holiday takes place two months later on March 8. International Women’s Day is set aside to acknowledge the contributions of women, a movement which began in the 1850s when women in the United States protested working conditions in the garment and textile industries. Interestingly, female employees get a paid half or whole day off from work, while the men must wait for International Labor Day (May 1) when all employees receive a paid day off to celebrate improved working conditions.
June 1 is known as Children’s Day and not surprisingly, it is one of the most memorable holidays for a child. Parents shower their children with presents, while elementary schools hold parties and movie theaters, amusement parks and museums are free to children all day. National Day of the People’s Republic of China is a public holiday celebrated throughout China, Hong Kong and Macau on October 1. Government organized festivities include fireworks, concerts and portrait displays of revered leaders like Sun Yat-Sen, a political leader often referred to as “the father of modern China.”
Unlike official holidays, traditional ones are based on the lunar calendar and celebratory dates vary from year to year. The first traditional holiday is also the most important in the Chinese culture. Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is celebrated from the 1st day to the 15th day of the first lunar month with festivities, family gatherings, banquets and dragon dances. There is an abundance of food during celebrations, new clothes are worn and red decorations can be seen throughout homes and businesses. There are also red envelopes containing money that are given to children.
The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It also marks the end of all Chinese New Year celebrations. The origin of this holiday dates back to the Han Dynasty when Emperor Wu had a dream of his palace burning down. When told it was a bad omen, he had all the female servants and concubines leave his palace carrying lanterns in hopes of fooling the gods into thinking the palace was all ready on fire and people were fleeing. Festivities include lion and dragon dances and children go out at night carrying bright lanterns.
The welcomed change from winter to spring usually occurs on the 2nd day of the second month on the lunar calendar, sometime on or around March 5. It is known as the Zhonghe Festival or Jingzhe, the Feast of Excited Insects. This is the day when the dragon, king of all insects, awakens the insects from their hibernation to help revive the earth for new crops. The day is celebrated by eating Chinese “fajitas” and noodles.
Ancestors are revered in the Chinese culture, and Qing Ming Jie takes place annually around April 5 to honor and remember them. Also called Tomb Sweeping Day/Mourning Day, it is a day for the Chinese to visit and clean ancestral gravesites. Offerings such as whole chickens and wine are also made, while paper money is burned so dead relatives will have riches and wealth to “spend” on the other side.
Qu Yuan was a great Chinese poet who protested political corruption by drowning himself in the river. Villagers tried to save him, but were unsuccessful. One night, Qu Yuan’s spirit appeared and told friends he’d died because of a river dragon. The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates his death on the 5th day of the fifth lunar month. The traditional boat races represent the villagers’ search for his body.
On the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, the Chinese observe the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival. The second most significant holiday in Chinese culture celebrates the abundance of the summer’s harvest. It is also a time when the moon is at its fullest and brightest, and family and friends gather to eat mooncakes, a Chinese pastry filled with lotus paste and salted duck egg yolks.
Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. When it arrives, most folks are preparing for Christmas. For Chinese, it is their Thanksgiving, a day when families gather to eat dumplings cooked in a sweet soup or savory broth. One month later, the Chinese honor Buddha on the 8th day of the twelfth lunar month. It is the day he attained enlightenment and the occasion is marked with Laba Congee, a dish prepared from mixed grains and fruits.
For those of us who enjoy decorating and preparing for holidays, they seem to come and go in the blink of an eye. The next time you’re in a celebratory mood with no holiday in sight, celebrate one of ours. Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen has the items to fit the occasion and to help you start your own traditions.