China has a rich tradition of holidays and festivals, varying greatly between regions and ethnicities. Moreover, holidays also vary greatly in the way they are upheld throughout different regions in the country. In the modern era, many Western holidays have seeped into the country. Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s day are now all widely celebrated. This section focuses on traditional Chinese holidays.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar. Celebrations last for 2 weeks beginning with New Year’s Eve. It is standard practice to have one week off (7 days). The first day of the new year falls anywhere between January 21st and February 20th. Chinese New Year is full of myth, legend and lore. Customs also vary widely from region to region. Recently, the city of Chengdu has banned fireworks within the main city limits. While admittedly less festive, the air quality has improved greatly since the ban. For intense fireworks displays, it is best to leave the city. On that note, the city is almost empty during New Year’s as everyone returns to their family homes in other parts of the province, and the country. A great time to ride your bicycle unobstructed by traffic!

Tomb Sweeping Day

Tomb Sweeping Day is celebrated on the 15th day of the Spring Equinox, either April 4th or 5th. The main focus is on worshipping of ancestors, with families visiting ancestral grave sites, burning incense and paper money while paying respect to their relatives who have passed on. There are many legends associated with this holiday. The current form dates back to the Tang Dynasty.

The Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival occurs on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, in accordance with the Chinese calendar. It typically occurs in June. Most holidays have an associated food, for the dragon boat festival it is the zongzi (pictured above). Another important event is the racing of dragon boats. Many stories exist about the origins of the holiday. They all focus on a literati and civil servant who fell out of favour with his king, banished, and later committed suicide. The story usually ends with his body in a river, and this holiday is commemorated out of respect for this great injustice.

The Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, within 15 days of the autumnal equinox, on the night of a full moon. The holiday falls between September and October, sometimes coinciding with National Day (October 1st). The festival celebrates togetherness (of family and friends), thanksgiving (for the harvest, and harmonious unions) and praying (for health, success, children etc.). The typical dish (pictured above) is a moon cake. The holiday dates back to ancient times, as far back as the 16th Century B.C.E.

National Day

National Day is celebrated between October 1st and 7th, also known as Golden Week. National Day celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China, at Tiannanmen Square (Beijing) in 1949. People typically take advantage of the time off to travel. If possible, it is best to avoid travelling during this season. Prices go up, highways are clogged and tickets for buses, trains and planes are difficult to obtain.