Chinese Festivals in the Order of the Lunar Year

My project is about Chinese Festivals and how they are celebrated in China. I decided to go with a pamphlet like format as I wanted to be able to provide an easy to read, yet informative, display with a lot of picture so that the reader could get a better feel for the festivals and obtain a sense of their vibrancy and importance. I chose to put the festivals in the order of the lunar year as that is how they are celebrated in China.

Beginning with the Chinese New Year, also known as “The Spring Festival”, I included pictures of the zodiac calendar and Chinese dragon dancers. Celebrated between January 21st and February 20th, some of the celebrations are very private and focus on family and other celebrations are very public and feature elaborate parades. The holiday revolves around people rejoice in bringing in spring and the new zodiac cycle

Next I examined the Lantern Festival which occurs on the 15th day of the first month of the lunisolar year and is also known as the “Feast of the First Full Moon”. This festival is known to celebrate fertility and spring rains and features clowns, stilt walkers, lion dancers, and actors. Traditional activities include releasing lanterns to assist prayers in reaching loved ones.

The Qingming Festival or the “Clear Brightness Festival” occurs on the 1st day of the 5th solar moon. As part of the festivities, twenty-four hours before the festival, no kitchens use fire and all food is prepared cold. While it was once considered one of the Chinese festivals of life, it has evolved into a festival of death. Activities for the Qingming Festival include tidying up graves, playing games, picnicking, flying kites, and offering food and drinks to the deceased. Food and paper sacrifices are made to ancestors in order to receive blessings and abundant harvests. It is believed that a person’s relationship with ghosts can be seen in the types of food offered from plain raw foods to seasoned cooked food. Interestingly, food is offered to ghosts the same way it would be offered to the living

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as “Zhongxiao Festival” “Tuen Ng Festival” and “Double Fifth” is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon which lands near the summer solstice. During this festival, the Chinese incorporate colors of the five elements (red, yellow, black, white, azure). It is considered the second Festival of the Living and celebrates fertility, rainfall, and bountiful harvests. Offerings are made to Qu Yuan, China’s first known poet. Activities include river parades, dragon boat races, and hanging up icons of Zhong Kui (a guardian figure).

The Qixi Festival also known as the “Double Seventh Festival”, “Magpie Festival”, and “Festival of the Cowherd and Weaving Maiden” revolves around the tale of a cowherd falling in love the Emperor of Heaven’s weaving daughter and is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month. Due to the romantic nature of the festival, it is sometimes compared to Valentine’s Day and is heavily female dominated. Girls celebrate by worshipping celestials and displaying their domestic skills and burning paper items as offerings. It is also custom for newlyweds make offerings for prolonged marriage.

The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as “The Yulan Festival”, “The Passage of Universal Salvation”, and “The Festival of the Seventh Moon” is the second festival of the dead. Families celebrate by performing private rituals at outdoor alters. On the fifteenth day, a large festival occurs featuring Buddhist and Taoist priests performing liturgies and rituals offering incense, paper items, and spirit money to ghosts. The ceremony ends with buns and candy being thrown into the crowd to feed the hungry ghosts. Activities include musical performances, invitations to gods, and releasing water lanterns.

 The Mid-Autumn Festival or the “Moon Festival” is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon and celebrates the harvest moon. The moon is considered a dwelling place for immortals and represents longevity. The Mid-Autumn Festival is considered the final Festival of the Living. During this festival, unmarried girls often pray to the moon to help their love lives. Traditional foods include mooncakes, lotus roots, and moon shaped fruits. Activities include poetry, magic, burning incense, dragon dances, lion dances, and twilight dances. 

The Chongyang Festival, also known as, “Double Yang Day”, “9th Day”, “9th Moon Festival”, and “Mounting the Heights” is celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th lunar moon and celebrates autumn. Activities include picnics on hillsides featuring chrysanthemum wine, chrysanthemum dances, and chrysanthemum parties. This festival is often associated with fear and death but also longevity and good health and is considered by some to be a Festival of the Dead.

The Dongzhi Festival or the “Winter Solstice Festival” occurs on the shortest day of the year and revolves around family. Activities include festive dances, feasts, and parades. The festival celebrates Yin and Yang and balance in the cosmos. Many Chinese people see themselves as one year older after this festival.

After my extensive research, I was able to not only discover all of the different Chinese festivals but how they are celebrated, at what times, and why. It was very interesting to learn about the Chinese festivals with an American mindset. I considered several of their customs and beliefs relating to the festivals to be rather strange but realized that Westerners have some holiday traditions the Chinese might consider odd as well. I feel as though I now have a much greater appreciation for Chinese customs and how they have managed to preserve their vibrant and festive culture for thousands of years.

2 thoughts on “Chinese Festivals in the Order of the Lunar Year

  1. Joshua Greaves

    This was a really digestible way to provide a good bit of interesting information about the festival practices of the Chinese Lunar New Year. I have to say I was really surprised to see how many parallels there were from these practices to the the ritual practices of Haitian Vodou. The various festivals for many different important traditions, especially those that took place in cemeteries rang astoundingly close to Vodou festivals. The food ONLY prepared cold at the first festival is like that of food presented on Vodou altars to the spirits (Lwa) of Vodou. Not hot food must be placed on their altars. Instead various objects and cold meals are often presented to the Lwa depending on the individual or family relationship with the Lwa, or current circumstances. Not terribly unlike that of the Chinese practices you explained. As the cemetary festival reference might suggest, there is also quite the focus on the dead in Vodou. One is expected to be good to their dead relatives and friends, and festivals for the dead and Papa Ghede the keeper of the dead are not uncommon. The families practicing at private altars also jumped out at me, as in Haitian Vodou, the practice is one that bonds entire communities together and spawns many festivals, but it is also a practice that encourages the service of the Lwa on an individual or familial basis. It really is amazing how people with such different backgrounds so far apart in the world can come to similar conclusions about the world around them and ways they can celebrate that world.

  2. Kayla Arena

    After reading your post, I noticed many similarities to Haitian voodoo and Chinese celebrations. One celebration in particular that made me think of voodoo is the Qingming Festival. One of the biggest aspects of voodoo is the connection to the spirit world and offering spirits, foods, and goods to the spirits. In voodoo, death is not seen as a particular tragedy. Once a loved one dies, they are still alive through the spirit world. I also find it interesting how they offer food to the ghosts, the way that they would to those who are living. This is similar to offering food to the spirits. For example, if someone is having a cup of coffee, they might place a mug on their altar to serve the spirits at the same time. It is fascinating to compare Haitian voodoo rituals to Chinese culture because at first glance they seem so different, yet there are definitely some similarities.

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