As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China has a long list of traditional holidays the nation and its people celebrate. Each major Chinese festival carries a specific sentiment and can be found sprinkled throughout the year. Some common Chinese holidays familiar in the western world, like Lunar New Year, can be found observed by Chinese communities in various countries. But China's history boasts an array of other lesser-known cultural holidays that Mandarin learners should know. Here are seven major Chinese holidays and the traditions that follow.
Learn Chinese by Celebrating Important Chinese Holidays
While Chinese holidays are vast and full of tradition, there's actually a few ways to label different holidays and festivals. The Chinese language is often nuanced and can be broken down into different terms to accurately describe certain things. For example, the term 節/节(jié) is typically used to denote a festival, while the term 假期(jiàqī) means holiday or vacation. Some days of celebration are also termed with 日(rì), which indicates a single day to celebrate.
Knowing and celebrating these major Chinese holidays is a great way to practice your Chinese speaking skills and make some new friends. Gathering together and observing traditions over making 粽子(zòngzi)，餃子(jiǎozi)，湯圓(tāngyuán) or some other type of delicacy is the perfect way to be immersed in Chinese culture. Keep reading to learn more about the seven major Chinese holidays and their traditions.
1. 春節/春节(chūn jié) Chinese New Year a.k.a. Lunar New Year
Arguably the most familiar traditional Chinese holiday, 春節 has been celebrated for 4000 years. Its long standing history highlights a wide variety of traditions and can be seen celebrated by many other Asian communities. Thought to bring good luck, this Spring Festival is usually celebrated with tons of red colored items, delicious homemade food, and quality time with family. The major aspect of Chinese New Year is to be able to reconnect with family members while honoring one of the twelve animals in the Zodiac cycle.
In actuality, 春節 celebrations take place before and after the day of, too. The night before on New Year's Eve, or 除夕 (chú xì), Chinese people will gather together with all of their family members and have a large feast. On the day of Lunar New Year, red lanterns and twinkling lights are hung up in preparation for the midnight firecrackers. Chinese red envelopes are also gifted as a sign of auspiciousness, abundance, and prosperity.
2. 元宵節/元宵节 (yuán xiāo jié) Lantern Festival
If you've ever seen beautiful lit up lanterns floating across the sky, chances are you're witnessing the celebration of the Lantern Festival. Traditionally, Chinese New Year doesn't end until this festival takes place on the 15th day of the 1st Lunar month. Historically, however, 元宵節 derived from worshipping the Buddha. Modern versions of this celebration include releasing lanterns, eating glutinous rice balls a.k.a. 湯圓 (tāngyuán), and enjoying lion or stilt dances.
3. 清明節/清明节 (qīng míng jié) Tomb Sweeping Day
This tradition dates back 2,500 years and holds a very important place in the hearts of many Chinese people. 清明節 is a day for Chinese people to celebrate the deep-rooted respect for their ancestors, and to ensure their ancestors have a peaceful after life. Traditions for this Chinese holiday include burning paper money, offering foods at the tomb, and cleaning/washing the tomb. This holiday is an important part of Chinese culture and allows the living to honor their ancestors through grave cleaning and prayers.
4. 端午節/端午节 (duān wǔ jié) Dragon Boat Festival
This 2000-year-old Chinese summer festival is rooted in folklore and superstition. It is said that the 5th day of the 5th Lunar month harbors bad luck, hence the start of the 端午節. Folklore also say that the festival begun after the poet 屈原 (qū yuán 340-278 BCE) drowned himself in the MiLuo River. Festivities often include a dragon boat race, chowing down on 粽子 (zòng zi), and spending time with friends and family. For more in-depth knowledge on the Dragon Boat Festival, check out this guide.
5.七夕節/七夕节 (qī xì jié) Chinese Valentine's Day
Falling on the 7th day of the 7th Lunar month, this holiday also holds important cultural folklore meaning. Chinese people have often worshipped the stars, and celebrating 七夕節 is no different for young women and girls. The love story of the Weaver Girl 織女(zhī nǚ) and Cowherd 牛郎 (niú láng) inspired this holiday, and has come to represent a day of love. Traditional festivities on Chinese Valentine's Day include exchanging gifts with your romantic partner, eating 七夕 pastries, and praying to 織女 for fertility, a happy marriage, or intelligence.
6. 中秋節/中秋节 (zhōng qiū jié) Mid-Autumn Festival a.k.a. Moon Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival is an important holiday observed by many Chinese people across the globe. Quite similar to the United States' Thanksgiving holiday, the Moon Festival gathers family and friends around to celebrate over a good meal. The Moon Festival has a 3,000 year old history, falling on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.
Autumn time often signifies harvest and abundance, so people come together to pray for an auspicious season. This important Chinese holiday has many traditions and folklore surrounding its origins. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, lanterns are sometimes lit and released to send good thoughts and wishes. However, the most notable activity during this festival is to eat mooncakes, or 月餅 (yuè bǐng). Mooncakes come in a variety of flavors, like lotus-seed paste or red bean. It is customary to gift friends mooncake sets, too.
7. 冬至 (dōng zhì) Winter Solstice
The last holiday of the year that is observed is the Winter Solstice. This particular day of celebration is observed by plenty of cultures around the world, China being one of them. Winter solstice signifies the shortest day and longest night of the year. During this time, people in China gather to eat traditional dumplings 餃子 (jiǎo zi) or glutinous rice balls 湯圓(tāng yuán). Some locals also opt to eat wontons 餛飩 (hún tún) on this Chinese holiday.
China's Major Holidays Are Fun to Know
Participating in China's holiday celebrations as a Mandarin learner is a great way to immerse yourself within the culture. China's vast traditions are fun to learn and allow you to connect with natives in a different setting. Whether you're celebrating with friends or reconnecting with your ancestral roots, learning and practicing some key Chinese phrases on Speechling can make you feel better integrated. If you're completely new to learning Mandarin, check out this guide on the different ways to say hello in Chinese!