On the eve of 31 October, many Western countries come alight with the glow of countless jack-o’-lanterns that signify the arrival of Halloween. In China, Halloween celebrations among the younger generation are gradually becoming more and more popular. Kids’ Halloween parties and pumpkin-carving is becoming a favourite with less conservative parents in big cities. Nonetheless, apart from a few expat-oriented bars and pubs, the practice of dressing-up is nowhere near as widespread as in the West.
There is, however, no shortage of traditional festivals dedicated to the dead in Chinese culture. In fact, the majority of festivals contain an element of sacrificing offerings in the form of money, food and wine to deceased ancestors. Qing Ming Festival, Ghost Festival and Spring Festival are among the better-known ones.
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost festival, falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. It stems from Taoist and Buddhist belief that on this day the gate that separates the world of the dead from the world of the living opens, and ghosts are believed to visit the living in their homes. To appease the hungry ghosts, their living descendants prepare elaborate feasts and burn joss paper. In many ways, the Hungry Ghost festival is similar to Halloween in the West.
The Qing Ming Festival is celebrated 108 days after the winter solstice. During the Qing Ming Festival, unlike during the hungry Ghost festival, the living visit the dead at their graves and bring offerings in the form of food, wine and chopsticks. They sweep the graves and burn joss money and firecrackers.
The Spring Festival, the most well-known among all Chinese festivals, is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese lunar calendar. Traditionally, the Spring festival was a time to honour deities as well as ancestors. During the Spring festival, the whole family gathers from different cities and provinces for a reunion. Offerings to ancestors play a big part in the proceedings. The lunar calendar is consulted about the specificities of which way to face when bowing and making offerings. Traditionally, dumplings (jiaozi) are offered to the ancestors to invite them to join in the festivities.
There is a distinctive difference between Chinese and Western cultures in the way they interact with ghosts. While in Western culture Halloween is the height of human-ghost interaction, in Chinese culture deceased ancestors play a much larger part throughout the year. The interaction between the dead and the living is not limited to a few select days in the year. People commonly burn joss paper and offer wine at street corners. Although strict guidelines that guide the process of interaction are put in place in the cities, people that live in the countryside have a much closer relationship with their dead ancestors. We only need to look at how graves form a natural part of the architectural landscape in the countryside to see that the divide between dead and living is nowhere near as defined as it is in the West. For the Chinese, it is not just during Halloween that the worlds of the living and the dead come together.
I remember once hearing someone say, “You work more than a Chinese person!” I now don’t think that person understood the reality of this sentence. The truth is, nobody really can until they’ve been living in China for a while!
China has four main Public Holidays and numerous annual festivals, the most important of which are Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Mid-Autumn Festival (National Day). People often refer to these festivals as “Golden weeks”, but for many interns who experience these holidays in China for the first time, the Chinese idea of a holiday is not what you’d expect! You might get seven days of in a row, great, but there is also a price to pay. The Saturday or Sunday before or after the Golden week become regular working days to make up for some of the valuable working hours lost to leisure time. No rest for the wicked, ay! This was definitely a shock to me when I first started my internship in Qingdao – “I have to come to work on a Sunday!?!”
Here’s an example of how the working week took shape in the past to accommodate Mid-Autumn Festival and China’s National day. Peculiar, huh?
During these two weeks Chinese people usually go back to their hometowns to visit their families or go travelling as a family. You’ll find the big cities packed to brimming point with happy families wielding cameras in on selfie sticks. It’s a lively atmosphere, but for the safety of your toes, I would advise you to avoid the main attractions and tourist spots on National holidays! You’re likely to find something like this:
CHINESE NEW YEAR
But not everything is negative and actually one of the main reasons I love China is that behind these holidays there is a strong sense of tradition, a history and many customs that will continue to be observed for years to come.
For example, the Chinese New Year Festival (or Spring Festival) in February has more than 4,000 years of history. The Chinese welcome the New Year by asking the Queen of the Sun to help with the next harvest.
The festival is said to have started with a mythical beast called the Nian. The evil Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put out food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that if the beast ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One day, a villager decided to get revenge on the Nian. A god visited him and told him to put red paper over the outside of his house and firecrackers too. The Nian it seems was afraid of the colour red. When the New Year was approaching, the villagers hung up red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors and lit up firecrackers to frighten the beast away. From then on, the Nian never troubled the village again.
That’s also the reason you’ll find all over China red paper decorations adorning every front door.
Around the same time as China’s National Day, the Mid-Autumn Festival arrives. This festival is closely related to the changes of the seasons and agricultural production. It’s a time to say “thank you” to the Moon Queen and celebrate the last days of September. The festival has more than 3000 years of history.
It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult. It was the hero Hou Yi, who, owing to his great strength, shot down nine of the ten suns. On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Among these people was an old friend called Peng Meng. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and they lived a happy life.
One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if taken, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god/goddess. Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E.
Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi giving the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard of the happy couples home and demanded Chang E to hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not defeat Peng Meng, she took the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, Cheng E flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest place to the earth in heaven.
On realizing what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grieved that he shouted Chang E’s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife had appeared in the Moon. He laid Chang E’s favourite food on an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her, but he had lost her forever.
After hearing that Chang E had become a goddess, the folk people also started offering sacrifices to Chang E, praying for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among folklore.
I like this story, but the best thing about the holiday are the moon cakes. Each one is a surprise because I never know what filling I’ll find inside!
Which each day I like China and its culture more and more – there’s always a nice story to listen to. If you also want to experience the real China – apply now.
Being a student in China has some very significant perks – especially when it comes to holidays. You might not get your usual Christmas vacation (it was rather depressing having to sit in the classroom on the 24th or 25th December), but Chinese University students are given a very long – sometimes up to 5 weeks – winter holiday.To make the most of our time in China, and to practice our Chinese, of course, my friend and I took on the quest of travelling during Spring Festival. Our rough plan was laid out as follows: Train it from Beijing to Nanjing, then take a train to Zhengzhou in Henan to visit a friend of ours who was travelling home for the holidays. Next stop, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, followed by Yangshuo, Guilin and back to Beijing. Surprisingly, we actually made it to all of these destinations and managed to stick to our plan.
We spent the actual New Year days in a small village named Jiaozuo outside Zhengzhou. Not really knowing what to expect when our friend invited us to his home to celebrate the New Year, we hopped on a train from Nanjing ready for an adventure. Unlike the other trains we had taken, this one was old, loud, and uncomfortable. Five hours later, after having endured questioning by almost every other passenger in the cabin (what are you waiguoren (foreigners) doing in this part of town??), we finally arrived in Zhengzhou at around midnight.
A bumpy bus-ride and a daring motorbike-ride later, we made it to our friend’s family’s home and were warmly welcomed by his parents and grandparents. There was a lot of chatter in their local dialect, of which we couldn’t understand anything, but it looked like they were happy to see us. After we were presented with some soup and nibbles, our friend and his father gave us a tour of the village and their land. As we walked through the old streets (no skyscrapers here!) we were followed by a group of curious children, who had probably never seen a non-Chinese person in their life. We visited the family’s other property and hung up couplets on the doors and arches and bought fireworks and firecrackers in preparation for the evening.
By sunset the first firecrackers were set off, and the blasts did not end until the early morning hours. There were home-made jiaozi (dumplings) for dinner and soup, followed by a game of majiang of course!
The next morning, offerings were made to the temples nearby and firecrackers were set off on the fields to welcome the harvest. It was truly an unforgettable experience to see everyone together, singing, laughing and celebrating. The only way I could describe it is the warm, fuzzy feeling we have at Christmas.. just more explosive.. 🙂
Come to China for an Internship and experience the joys of Spring Festival yourself! Apply Now
Back in 2012 when I was first in Chengdu, I had the chance to experience my first Spring Festival in China. After the first semester of my studies finished, I had a long period of time to travel around but as my friend was coming to visit me, I decided to stay put in Chengdu.
The Spring Festival was approaching and you could see quite a lot the people leaving Chengdu to go back to their hometown to celebrate the festival. As the streets of Chengdu were emptying we came to the conclusion that there would be no reason to spend Spring Festival in the city, so we decided to spend it elsewhere. We wanted something different but somewhere that wasn’t too far, something that would be an unforgettable experience for all of us. My friend suggested Emei Mountain because she heard that the sunrise was amazing. So that was it, the decision was made, we would spend Spring Festival at the top of a mountain!
Two nights were booked and we were excited about our adventure to Emei Mountain. To prepare for our travels we bought snacks, fruit, water and some instant noodles. We also bought some heated pads that help keep you warm. If your feet are prone to the cold like mine, the heated pads that are made to fit nicely inside your shoes will do wonders for your toes!
Our first day was spent travelling and trekking up Emei. When we arrived at the bottom of Emei, we purchased a bamboo stick and some ice grips each to help us with the trek. We then took another bus up to take us part way up the mountain. On the way we could see the weather changing drastically, snow started to appear on the roads and we felt like our life was in danger because the roads were so narrow and close to the edge of the mountain. Nevertheless, we made it safely and arrived at our destination to a completely white covered mountain. We then made our own way up to our hotel and trekked for what felt like eternity.
Our second day started early as the main reason for going to Emei was to see the sunrise, but to our disappointment as we were making our way to the top, we could see the skies were not clear enough that day. But whilst we were there we did manage to take some great photos including the Golden Buddha. That morning we had also decided to shorten our visit for several different reasons. But before making our way home we had to make a detour to a different part of the mountain to do some skiing!
Although we were unable to see the sunrise, the trip to Emei was still unforgettable in so many different ways. Just to name a few, the scenery was of course amazing but also funny memories that we were able to take home with us such as the management of the hotel refusing to give us extra blankets and shutting the door in angrily our faces, and the time when we asked the ski instructor for advice on skiing (it was our first time), his response was ‘Go with your guts!’.
So apply for an internship in China now. In your free time you can travel to many different places and have your own memorable experiences!
A few of our Chinese colleagues across our three offices in China are sharing how they usually spend the most important festival of the year. 🙂
Zhuhai – Sunny Sui
The Spring Festival is approaching and all the people are starting their preparations for the most important festival. I grew up in the North of China and have only been living in Canton for just over 12 years. Although the Spring Festival has the same meaning for all Chinese, the customs are really different. Today, I am going to talk about the Cantonese’s customs for Chinese New Year. For Cantonese, the most important thing to do for Spring Festival is to stroll around at the flower markets. The flower markets open a week before Chinese New Year. During that time the long streets are full of flowers, and sometimes you can even find stadiums filled with them. People believe strolling around flower markets will bring them luck for the new year, for this reason they will also buy some flowers to decorate their houses. The most popular flowers are orchids, orange trees, solanum mammosum, peach blossom trees and narcissus. So, Cantonese are the most romantic Chinese!
I went to the Chinese New Year flower market last Saturday and bought some orchids to decorate my home. For me, this is one of the most important activities for Spring Festival. I like flowers very much and I can’t wait to go to Guangzhou on Wednesday to see some of the biggest flower markets. Last Chinese New Year we spent the Spring Festival in Guangzhou with my family and my sister-in-law’s family. We had lots of dinners together, we went shopping and went for several trips around Guangzhou.
Qingdao – Shona Shi
As tradition, my parents and I would celebrate the Chinese New Year with my grandparents and uncle’s family. In the morning of New Year’s Eve, we would start the busy day with breakfast together, we would usually eat steamed buns called 包子, bāozi. After that we would put the character 福, fú and the couplet on the front door, which represents our hope and wishes for the coming year. For lunch, we would usually have a variety of dishes with rice.
In the afternoon, we would sweep the graves of our ancestors, and burn some fake money to express how much we miss them and “provide” them with money in their afterlife. This is also believed to be a way to invite them back home and celebrate the new year with us, although I do find this concept kind of scary! In the evening, we would have a feast and watch the spring festival gala together. The feast consists of seafood, meat, vegetables and most important dumplings. On the first day of new year, we would greet our relatives and friends and give them our best wishes.
Chengdu – Kenny Qing
Nowadays there are more and more people from outside of Chengdu moving here to work or live, therefore making Chengdu really crowded. But during the Spring Festival the usual crowded transportation and streets will become deserted, you will find only a few people walking on the street as most of these people will go back to their home town and spend the Spring Festival with their family. For the locals, most of them will stay at home or visit their relatives or friends. I’m also a local and since I can remember, during this time my family will prepare lots of different kinds of food for Spring Festival such as sausages, spicy chicken, soup and several small snacks. When the day comes we invite all of our relatives to have lunch together.
After lunch, sometimes we will go to the temple to make a wish to the Buddha. We usual ask for good health for the family for the coming year, but others will also ask for wealth, which I think the Buddha will not agree with. After this, we will return home and my grandma will suggest to the other adults that they play mahjong together, which they will do for the rest of the day. As for the kids, we will all go outside to play and watch the fireworks. Over the years, I have found that the fireworks don’t interest me as much as before, for me I think that the most happy thing about this time is receiving the lucky money, 红包, hóngbāo, from the older relatives. Here, I have to mention one other thing, never believe your mum when she says that she will help you save it in the bank and give it to you later when you grow up!
Come to China and learn more about the Spring Festival! Apply now!
In China the biggest festival of the year is the New Year, also called spring festival 春节chūnjié in Chinese. You may be asking why they celebrate the New Year in late January or early February and not at the beginning of January like most of the world. The reason for that is the lunar calendar.
The Lunar Calendar
Before China started to use the Gregorian calendar they had their own system, which followed the moon but even to this day China’s festivals are still celebrated according to the lunar calendar. Many people in China even celebrate their lunar birthday instead of the Gregorian calendar birth date, which can actually be found on their ID cards.
This can be confusing for people from other countries, as the lunar calendar varies from our calendar by a few weeks, hence the dates change every year.
The Chinese New Year starts on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar, which this year is on the 31st of January. Usually it is celebrated for one week, but as most people will go to their hometown, they will usually stay away for two weeks, sometimes even longer. This leads to a mass of people travelling through the whole country with crowded trains, buses and planes. The ticket prices rise tremendously just before and after this period so it is not advised to go on a journey at that time. However during the first few days of the actually holiday period tickets are very cheap and it’s not as busy as everybody is already home with their families.
Customs and Traditions
Just before the holiday you will see people buying new clothes and getting new haircuts. Everybody wants to look good for the New Year. As red is the lucky colour, the people who were born in the year of the same zodiac animal, will buy red underwear and wear it on the first day of the New Year.
People will also clean their homes and put red banners with 春联chūnlián, couplets, at their front doors wishing for good luck and a prosperous new year. They are put up vertically one on the left, one on the right and one horizontally on the top of the door
There are many other decorations as well, usually red lanterns, paper cuts or posters of the character 福fú meaning ‘good fortune’ and the zodiac animal of the year. You can often see the picture of fú hanging upside down, so that the luck will pour down on you.
Another traditional decoration is fish, the reason for this is the saying 年年有余，天天有鱼 niánnián yǒu yú, tiāntiān yǒu yú, which translates into ‘Have abundance year after year, have fish every day’. As the words for abundance and fish have the same sound (yú), Chinese people use fish as a symbol for abundance. That is also why Chinese will have fish in every New Year’s meal.
There is one red thing everyone anticipates, it’s the red envelope 红包 hóngbāo. It’s the typical New Year present filled with money from family or close family friends and is usually given to the children. Most companies will also give out a New Year’s bonus in a hóngbāo to their employees.
Family is the most important during the Chinese New Year. As many people work in a different place than their hometown for most people it’s the only chance in the year when the whole family will get together. During the holiday there will be plenty of lunches and dinners with family, extended family, friends and neighbours. It’s a very lively time and the atmosphere is bustling with excitement.
Of course you cannot miss out on the firecrackers and fireworks, that is what the Chinese invented gunpowder for (not for guns ;-P). The noise of the exploding crackers is supposed to drive evil and ghosts away, so that there will be a happy and peaceful start into the New Year.
After filling their stomachs and letting off a huge amount of firecrackers most families will spend a calm New Year’s eve in front of the TV watching the New Year’s Gala 春节联欢晚会chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì, a four hour or longer programme with singing, dancing, comedy and magical performances from the different ethnic groups all over the country.
Before the actual holiday many Chinese New Year events and parties will take place, just like companies in western countries will have their Christmas party. There you can also see traditional performances such as the dragon dance.
Do you want to experience a Chinese New Year celebration yourself? Apply for an internship and do a homestay to have an authentic Chinese New Year with a Chinese family!
Now, I will tell you something about the Spring Festival I know and grew up with, and how to celebrate Spring Festival in my family. The blog is a long one, please be patient~~^_^
•The origin of Spring Festival
It’s said that “Nian 年” was a horrific monster in ancient China. It always destroyed everything and even hurt people. People found out, that the monster was afraid of the red cloth people put on their doors, so it has become a tradition to have something red (Spring Festival couplets and Fu character 福) on the doors and walls. Nian is also afraid of fireworks and firecrackers, that’s why Chinese people love to make a lot of noise during the Spring Festival time.
•The importance of Spring Festival in China
Spring Festival is the most important festival during the whole year, almost everyone goes back home to celebrate Spring Festival with their family, even people who work in Hainan Province and their hometown is in Heilongjiang Province go back home (Hainan is in the southwest of China, Heilongjiang Province is in the northeast of China).
The traffic during the whole month is horrible, it’s difficult to get a ticket to go back home (because everyone wants to go back home), if you get a ticket, you are lucky, but if you take a train to somewhere, you will find sometimes you can’t get a place and you will have to stand on the train. We call it “Chun1yun4 春运”, it is a word we use to describe the passenger transport during the period of Spring Festival.
•Prepare for Spring Festival
-“La Yue” ”腊(la4)月(yue4)”
“La Yue” is the last month on Chinese lunar calendar in one year. When “La Yue” starts, Chinese people start to prepare everything for the Spring Festival.
The Spring Festival is only one day on a calendar, but for Chinese people, it isn’t only one day, it always refers to the whole Spring Festival period.
– Cleaning: Chinese people clean the house everywhere; wash all the window curtains, bed sheets and dirty clothes before Spring Festival.
– Buy enough food for the whole month: Including all kinds of meat, vegetables, fruits, snacks, nuts, sweets and “mantou 馒头” (Chinese bread). If you are in China now, you will find that the traffic jam is worse on the weekends than weekdays, there are so many people in supermarkets and shopping malls, you may believe everything is for free! (Because everyone buys a lot of stuff!)
– Wear new clothes: On Spring Festival, people wear new clothes, even underwear and socks are all new. As mentioned in the blog written by my charming colleague Sunny “people will wear red coloured underwear and socks as if the coming year would be their year. By the way, the next year is the year of the snake！”
When I was a child, I was always very happy to wear new clothes on Spring Festival, I would keep the new clothes my mother bought for me in winter to wear until the Spring Festival. But now, I don’t mind if I wear new clothes on Spring Festival, because I have grown up and I can buy new clothes anytime I want.
•Spring Festival Eve
There is a tradition that the family makes sacrifices to forefathers of the family during the period of the Spring Festival. It’s very solemn. Prepare a table with incense, candles, some dishes, fruits and cakes.
In my family, if we decide to make sacrifices, we will prepare it very carefully, because it displays the respect we have for our family ancestors.
-“Dinner on Spring Festival Eve”,”年(nian2)夜(ye4)饭(fan4)”
On the Spring Festival Eve, all family members get together cooking, making dumplings, watching TV (more than 99.99% families in China watch the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV). The dinner on Spring Festival Eve is the most important meal in one year for every family. Some families also put several coins (washed with boiling water) into dumplings, if you eat a dumpling with a coin, it means you will be lucky and will make more money in the new year!
My mom always prepares at least 10 dishes for the dinner every year, even though there are only us three(my parents and me) celebrating together on the eve. After dinner, we will eat dumplings at midnight. When the dumplings are cooked, we will set off firecrackers at the same moment.
Children are all very happy during the period of Spring Festival, because they can get red envelopes from older family members on Spring Festival, they all become “rich men”!
I got red envelopes from my parents, grandparents and some other elder family members every year until I graduated from college. I will give red envelopes to my nephews from this Spring Festival on…
•“Happy Spring Festival”,”拜(bai4)年(nian2)”
Say “Guo4 nian2 hao3”(it means happy Chinese new year) with fist and palm salute to people you know or you don’t know but you want to ask for help if you stay in China during the period of the Spring Festival, they will be very happy. People will visit each other to say “guo4 nian2 hao3” to wish each other good luck and make more money in the new year!
•“Going back to mother’s home”,”回(hui2)娘(niang2)家(jia1)”
It’s a tradition in China that the daughters who have married could not celebrate the Spring Festival with their own parents, they celebrate the Spring Festival with their husband’s family. So the second day (in some areas in China, it is the first day) after Spring Festival is the date for the daughters who have married to back home to celebrate with their own parents, also with husbands and kids, they always take a lot of gifts. And the parents of the daughters will entertain them as well. But now, because most of Chinese families have only one child, people don’t mind to celebrate with other families and friends.
Although my mom goes to visit my grandmother every two days, she prepares a lot of gifts for my grandmother on this day as well. My grandmother also gets up early in the morning to prepare the dinner for us.
•How Chinese people spend Spring Festival holiday
We get a 7-days holiday during the Spring Festival. Do you want to know how Chinese people spend their holidays? Most of families celebrate together at home and meet friends, some people go out to travel with families, normally, people in north China prefer to travel to some warm places, because the winter is cold, they want to enjoy the holiday with only wearing a T-shirt.
I meet some friends and go shopping during the holiday, because there’s a big discount after Spring Festival! I am always busy during the holiday, there are too many friends and relatives to meet, too many things I want to do.
Before Chinese New Year is a great chance to explore the Cantonese Flower Markets!
They have a beautiful variety of flowers to choose from – the Cantonese Flower Market is simply a must see. Every Chinese New Year the Cantonese will put up a tangerine tree inside their house. They then decorate this tree with red paper envelopes which are containing money, after that they look quite like a Christmas tree. The Cantonese believe the Tangerine tree to be a symbol of good luck.
The Cantonese Flower Market is starting on a different date, since the traditional Chinese calendar changes every year, but it is always midnight around 12 a.m. So during those 3 days you can buy a lot of different flowers to have a nice Chinese new year.