Festivals in China have a lot of meaning behind them, and that’s what makes them so special. The most popular and practiced festivals and events focus around the Chinese Lunar calendar as well as deeply enshrined religious and spiritual beliefs. Having a local leader to show you around at this time is a real benefit – they’ve lived and experienced these firsthand.
Here’s a quick run-down on what to expect at different times of the year in China:
- Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
- Chinese Spring Festival
- Lantern (Yuan Xiao) Festival
- Qingming Festival
- Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival
- Mid-Autumn Festival
- National Day of China
- Double Ninth (Chongyang) Festival
1 January – New Year’s Day (Yuandan)
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
China holds the world’s largest ice and snow sculpture festival at Harbin in the frosty northeast Heilongjiang province. Officially starting on January 5 and running for a month, visitors can walk around the intricate sculptures, all illuminated in colour at night. With over 100 landmarks on display, it’s definitely a winter wonderland! Couple this with the quintessential Chinese experience of an overnight train from Beijing, and you’re set.
Chinese Spring Festival
All hail the most important festival in the Chinese calendar – the Spring Festival celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. Over the 15 days, families come together to celebrate the new year and enjoy festive foods such as fish, dumplings and nian gao – a glutinous rice cake. If you do decide to visit in this time, keep in mind it can be incredibly difficult to travel during this period as the whole country is on the move so they can be home.
Lantern (Yuan Xiao) Festival
What better way to mark the climactic end of the Chinese New Year with a lantern festival? Well, across the country, towns and cities gather together to release a sea of lanterns as a symbol of giving offerings to the gods, and today, there are many types of lanterns symbolising different things. Towns host celebrations featuring traditional dragon dances, stilt walkers, acrobats, float parades, fireworks and lots of sweet rice snacks. Named after the festival, these glutinous rice balls can be sweet with sugar, nuts or flower petals, or salty with a meat or vegetable mixture.
Known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, Qingming is observed by Han Chinese people as a day to celebrate life and commemorate the dead. Families will visit graves of their ancestors to clean the site, pray and make ritual offerings. Joss sticks and joss paper are burned on this day – a practice believed to send money and material wealth to deceased relatives.
May 1 - Labour Day
Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival
Dragons are a big deal in China – they symbolise power, strength and good luck, with particular control over water, rainfall, typhoons and floods. Which makes sense, seeing as though they are the main focus of the Duanwu Festival – a traditional day to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan (a legendary Chinese poet and patriot), who lived almost 2000 years ago. Occurring near the summer solstice, it’s a day of racing and eating a sticky rice dumpling called zongzi, with a number of provinces having local variations.
This harvest festival is celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese communities and is held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar – usually in mid-September or early-October. Mooncakes are often shared and eaten during the festival.
October 1 – National Day
It’s a day that turns into a week-long event to celebrate the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Government-organised activities – including fireworks and concerts – occur around the mainland on October 1, and many people travel home to meet up with their family for the week.
Double Ninth (Chongyang) Festival
Occurring on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Lunar calendar, the Chongyang festival is all about the yin and the yang, but because it’s Double Ninth, there’s too much yang, meaning it could be a potentially dangerous date. To make sure you stay safe, it’s customary to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor and wear the zhuyu plant, as the flowers are considered to have cleansing qualities.
Find a current list of all public holidays in China at World Travel Guide.
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