Chinese traditional festivals, its activities and its food

中国传统的古老节日, 都有其典故, 也有美食相衬.在中国, 民俗和传统节日与其使用的农历年和二十四节气紧密相关

I list 9 Chinese traditional festivals here. Each festival has its history and its special festival food. Chinese people use the lunar calendar (agriculture calendar), which divides sky into 24 segments based on the seasons of the year. The festivals closely link to the lunar calendar.

The 24 seasonal segments:
  • Li Chun 立 春 – Beginning of spring (Spring Festival)
  • Yu Shui 水 – Rain water
  • Jing Zhe 蛰 – Waking of insects
  • Chun Fen 分 – Spring equinox (the 21st day of Month 3)
  • Qing Ming 明 – Pure brightness
  • Gu Yu 雨 – Grain rain
  • Li Xia 夏 – Beginning of summer
  • Xiao Man 满 – Grain full
  • Mang Zhong 种 – Grain in ear
  • Xia Shi 至 – Summer solstice (the 22nd day of Month 6)
  • Xiao Shu 暑 – Slight heat
  • Da Shu 暑 – Great heat
  • Li Qiu 秋 – Beginning of autumn
  • Chu Shu 暑 – Limit of heat
  • Bai Lu 露 – White dew
  • Qiu Fen 分 – Autumnal equinox (the 23rd day of Month 9)
  • Han Lu 露 – Cold dew
  • Shuang Jiang 降 – Descent of Frost
  • Li Dong 冬 – Beginning of winter
  • Xiao Xue 雪 – Slight snow
  • Da Xue 雪 – Great snow
  • Dong Zhi 至 – Winter solstice (the 22nd of Month 12)
  • Xiao Han 寒 – Slight cold
  • Da Han 寒 – Great cold
The Important Traditional Festivals

(1) 春节
农历正月初一

春节一般指除夕和正月初一。但在民间,传统意义上的春节是指从腊月初八的腊祭或腊月二十三或二十四的祭灶,一直到正月十五,其中以除夕和正月初一为高潮。春节是中国人民最隆重的传统节日,它象征团结、兴旺,对未来寄托新的希望的佳节.

特色: 全家团聚在一起吃年夜饭(年糕、水饺). 燃鞭炮, 贴年画, 春联和门神, 迎接新的一年来临.

(1) Spring Festival
Lunar calendar – The 1st day of the 1st month of the year

Chinese New Year, also called “Spring Festival”, is the most important festival for the Chinese people.In tradition, it starts the 8th day of the month 12 or 23rd day of the month 12 and ends the 15th day of the month 1 in the new year. The Chinese New Year’s Eve and the 1st day of Chinese New Year are the most days. In the Spring Festival, people make best wishes for a bright future and good luck for the New Year.

Activities:

All  family members get together, just like Christmas in the West. People play fireworks and paste door panels with Spring Festival couplets, highlighting Chinese calligraphy with black characters on red paper; on  front doors, pictures of the god of doors and wealth will be posted toward off evil spirits and welcome peace and abundance.

Typical seasonal food:

Dumplings, which have the shape likes gold ingot from ancient China, people eat them and wish for money and treasure.

(image from http://www.gdfs.gov.cn/jkys/UploadFiles_5120/200801/20080114100926887.jpg)

New Year Rice Cakes, made with yellow and white flour, dates and sugar, express people’s best wishes for improving in work and life year after year.

(image from http://pic5.nipic.com/20091222/841041_165102098932_2.jpg

(2) 元宵节
农历正月十五

它是一年中第一个月圆之夜,也是一元复始,大地回春的夜晚,人们对此加以庆祝,是庆贺新春的延续。

特色: 点起彩灯, 舞狮子,耍龙灯,演社火,游花市,逛庙会, 放焰火、喜猜灯谜、共吃元宵.

(2) Lantern Festival
Lunar calendar – The 15th day of the 1st month of the year

The Lantern Festival is the first full moon of the New Year. It is a  symbol the coming of the spring. People celebrate the New Year’s  continuation.

Activities:

People go out to watch hundreds of decorative lanterns in public parks,  play riddles; and watching the dragon dance or lion dance show in  streets.

Typical seasonal food:

Sweet dumpling balls, has the “reunion” pronunciation,  which is similar to taking the meaning of reunion. It is a symbol of  family unity and happiness, harmony and happiness, and also, the memory  of loved ones farewell, and good wishes for the future.

(image from http://www.instructables.com/id/Tangyuan-Glutinous-rice-dumplings-in-sweet-soup/)

(3) 中和节
农历二月二

中和节, 俗称龙抬头。此时正值惊蛰前后,春归大地,万物复苏,蛰伏在泥土或洞穴中的昆虫蛇兽将从冬眠中醒来,传说中的龙也从沉睡中醒来,故名龙抬头。从节气上说,  二月初正处在”雨水”、”惊蛰”、”春分”之间,这是个既需要雨水,又可能有降雨的时期,人们希望通过对龙的祈求行为来实现降雨的目的。

特色: 祭文昌神, 祈求风调雨顺、五谷丰登, 吃春饼. 剃头.

(3) Dragon-Head-Raising Festival
Lunar calendar – The 2nd day of the 2nd month of the year

Dragon-Head-Raising Festival is also commonly known as the “Dragon  Heads-raising Day”. In the season, dormant creatures in the soil or insects in the cave wake up from hibernation, the legendary dragon wake  up from sleep too, hence it’s called “Dragon Heads-raising Day”. In ancient China, especially in the Qin and Han and before, where as the 1st day of Month 1, the 2nd day of Month 2, the 3rd day of Month 3 like “heavy day”, which is considered the world more sympathetic, heaven-interlinked day. Thus, in this day people need to do more praying, worship, or celebration, in order to achieve happiness, well-being and good fortune. As the ancient dragon is a sacred symbol,  Most Chinese northern farmers believe that dragon will expel pests and  bring rainfall, and with the help of that day, all stores, big and  small, will be full of grains.

Activities:

People have shaved, worship, remember Wenchang God, eat noodles, fried  Rick Cake, and pork, etc. They pray for the Land God to bless peace,  good weather and grain harvest. People believe in this day, barber will  make people take the lead and good fortune, therefore on this day, barbering is very common.

Typical seasonal food:

Spring cake is very thin baked bread. Eating a Spring cake is also known as “bite the spring”, which implies that having hit the  Spring at the beginning of Spring will bring people good fortune.

(image from http://www.108sp.com/UserFiles/Image/2008-11/FC914_1.jpg)

(4) 清明节
四月五日

清明节, 也叫”踏青节”. 与二十四节气有关, 清明一到,气温升高,雨量增多,正是春耕春种的大好时节. 同时, 这一天也是最重要的祭祀节日,是祭祖和扫墓的日子。

特色: 扫墓, 踏青, 清明之日不动烟火, 只吃凉的食品, 如枣饼, 青团和糯米糖藕。

(4) The Qing Ming Festival
The April 5th; Lunar calendar – the Pure Brightness day

The Qing Ming Festival is also called “Pure Brightness Festival” and “treading on the greenery”. It is the “Pure Brightness” day of the 24  seasonal segments, which denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and visit the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors. It is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites.

Activities:

On the day, people visit the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors; pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, paper money, and/or libations to the ancestors. After the worship, people go home and eat the food and drinks with a belief that they have got blessings from the ancestors. To show respect to the ancestors, people preserve the habit of not giving the fire to cook and eating cold. People also go picnic and play swing and enjoy the spring weather.

Typical seasonal food:

Qing Dumpling is made by Ai grass juice, glutinous rice  and wrapped in red bean paste, date paste and other fillings. After  steaming, it comes out with fresh green color, fragrant and not  non-sticky.

(image from http://finance.eastday.com/consumption/m5/20110402/images/01894959.jpg)

Rice-stuffed Lotus-root is made from lotus root with glutinous rice, sweet osmanthus and honey. It’s sweet, sticky and has the fresh scent of lotus and  osmanthus. It is a popular dessert in China now.

As people tend to eat cold food in the festival day, food such as Qing Dumpling and Lotus root stuffed with sweet sticky rice is suitable for afternoon tea and lunch as sticky rice is quite satiety.

(image from http://www.szeping.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/xihu_f-nmto.jpg)

Dates cake

(image from http://recipe0.hoto.cn/pic/recipe/l/80/4f/348032_c65481.jpg)

(5) 端午节
农历五月初五

端午也称端五,端阳。我国古代最早的 爱国诗人屈原遭谗言被放逐后,目睹楚国政治日益腐败,又不能实现自己的政治理想,无力拯救危亡的祖国,于是自投汩罗江以殉国。此后,人们为了不使鱼虾吃掉 其尸体,纷纷用糯米和面粉捏成各种形状的饼子投入江心,这便成为后来端午节吃粽子、炸糕的来源。

特色: 龙舟竞渡、吃粽子、喝雄黄酒.

(5) Dragon Boat Festival
Lunar calendar – the 5th day of the 5th Month

One main legend of the festival is about Qu Yuan, a famous poet and a minister lived in the pre-imperial Warring States period (475-221 BC). Known for his patriotism, Qu Yuan tried unsuccessfully to warn his king and countrymen against the expansionism of their Qin neighbors. However, he was set up and exiled by crafty sycophants, and felt disappointed with the upcoming devastation of his state from invasion by a neighbouring Warring State. Qu Yuan was said to have waded into the Miluo river which drains into Dongting Hu(lake) in today’s Hunan Province. Considering his ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era, the common people rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperately to save Qu Yuan. They beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body. Later on, they scattered rice into the water to prevent him from suffering hunger. Another belief is that the people scattered rice to feed the fish, in order to prevent the fishes from devouring the poet’s body.

Activities:

The celebrations include: dragon boat racing, eating Zongzi, and drinking traditional wine.

Typical seasonal food:

Zongzi, also called “Chinese rice-pudding”, is made by sticky rice, filled in dates, peanuts, meat, dry grapes or green beans etc. and wrapped in bamboo/reed leaves. The unique smell and flavor of leaves will go into the rice. Making Zongzi is traditionally a family event of which  everyone helps out.

(image from http://news.xinhuanet.com/food/2009-05/20/xinsrc_0620506201439484390292.jpg)

(6) 七夕
农历七月初七

七夕又称”乞巧节”或”女儿节”. 民间传说牛郎织女此夜在天河鹊桥相会,后有妇女于此夜向织女星穿针乞巧等风俗。所谓乞巧,即在月光下对着织女星用彩线穿针,如能穿过七枚大小不同的针眼,就算很”巧”了。

特色:  祈求心灵手巧和美满的姻缘, 吃巧果(以瓜果和蜜为主,其中多饺子、面条、油果子、馄饨等为此节日的食物).

(6) Qi Qiao Festival
Lunar calendar – the 7th day of the 7th Month

Qi Qiao Festival, known as “Seven Maiden’s Festival”, revolves around the mythological love story between the Cow herder (Niu Lang) and the Weaving Maiden (Zhi Nu). Zhi Nu was the 7th daughter of Jade Emperor living in the heaven. One day whilst visiting Earth, she met and fell in love with Niu Lang. They got married, but they were soon discovered by  her mother, the Jade Empress. According to the rules of the heaven, a goddess cannot marry a mortal. The Jade Empress was angry, and ordered her to return to heaven. But she took pity on the couple, and allowed them to meet once a year. So on the 7th night of every 7th lunar month, they meet on a bridge formed by magpies. The purpose of this festival is for females to pray for the highly skills of weaving from Zhi Nϋ and also to pray for a happy marriage like hers whose husband is faithful to her and loving her deeply.

Activities:

Girls pray for a good spouse and a happy marriage. There is also the  practice of airing clothing, needle-threading and “spider web” contest. Exhibitions of miniature clothes, shoes, sewing works.

Typical seasonal food:

Qiao fruit Cake, is made by flour, oil, sugar and honey and was used to be offered to Zhi Nu for praying for weaving “skills”. There are other 5 types of sweet food to feast together, namely dried lychees, red dates, hazelnuts, peanuts and melon seeds.

(image from http://a4.att.hudong.com/32/56/01300000354981125108568392372_s.jpg)

(7) 中秋节
农历八月十五

这一天正当秋季的正中,故称”中秋”。到了晚上,月圆桂香,旧俗人们把它看作大团圆的象征,要备上各种瓜果和熟食品,是赏月的佳节.

特色: 赏月, 吃月饼.

(7) Mid-Autumn Festival
Lunar calendar – the 15th day of the 8th Month

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the “Moon Festival” and “Lantern  Festival” is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and roundest. Farmers celebrate the end of the fall harvesting season on this date. Celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival is strongly associated with the legend of Houyi and Chan E, the Moon Goddess of Immortality. There are  many variants and adaptations of the legend of Chang’e that frequently contradict each other. However, most versions of the legend involve some variation of the following elements: Houyi, the Archer, an emperor, either benevolent or malevolent, and an elixir of life.

Activities:

Traditionally on this day, Chinese family members and friends will  gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomelos under the moon together.

Typical seasonal food:

In the festival, Mooncakes are for lunar worship and moon watching. Mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival. Most Mooncakes consist of a thin, tender skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling, and may contain one or more whole salted egg yolks in its centre to symbolise the full moon. Traditional  Mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters  for “longevity” or “harmony”, as well as the name of the bakery and the filling inside.

(image from http://image.rayli.com.cn/0005/2008-09-10/images/2008910213633458.jpg

(8) 重阳节
农历九月初九

中国古代以九为阳,九月九日正是阴月阳日,故名”重阳”。相传东汉时汝南人桓影,听到费长房对他说,九月九日汝南将有大灾难,赶快叫家里人缝制小代,内装茱萸,缚在臂上,登上高山,饮菊花酒,借以避难。

特色: 做茱萸代、饮菊花酒、吃重阳糕, 举行庙会、登高。

(8) Double Ninth Festival
Lunar calendar – the 9th day of the 9th Month

The Double Ninth Festival is also known as the “Festival for the Elderly”. According to the “Book of Changes”, “nine” is a young (positive) number; the ninth day of the ninth lunar month (or double nine) has too much yang (a traditional Chinese spiritual concept) and is thus a potentially dangerous date. Hence, the day is also called “Double Yang Festival”. To protect against the danger, it is customary  to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum wine and wear the Zhuyu. In Chinese, “99” is a homonym of “long”, which means everlasting, so on this holiday, some Chinese also visit temples and the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. One of the legend is about a man called Huan Ying. One day, he knew that a monster of pestilence would come, so he asked people in his village to wear Zhuyu and climb to a hill to hide from the disaster. People then use the Double Ninth Festival to celebrate the victory of Huan Ying.

Activities:

Family will be together all that day and to climb heights; normally climbing a mountain, a tower or a high hill. This activity is regarded as “disaster prevention”. Many locations also host a chrysanthemum exhibit and mountain climbing races.

Typical seasonal food:

Chrysanthemum tea/wine is popular because in ancient times  as “auspicious wine” that people must drink on the Double Ninth  Festival to prevent disasters and pray for blessings, and also  chrysanthemum implies the flower longevity.

(image from http://www.china5080.com/leling/userfiles/image/1231146959406.jpg)

Chongyang  Cake is also called “Hua Gao”. In Chinese, “Gao”, as a type of cake, has the same pronunciation of the character “height”. Therefore, people replaced height climbing custom with eating Chongyang cake. The partial   tone suggests promotion and high rank.

(image from http://guide.lvmama.com/uploadfile/2011/0519/20110519021236598.jpg)

(9) 腊八节
农历腊月初八

古代十二月祭祀”众神”叫腊,因此农历十二月叫腊月。相传腊八节是佛祖”成道”之日,佛寺要仿效牧女献糜的故事,取八种香谷和果实制粥供佛. 一年到头, 是祈求人体安康,合家兴旺之意.

特色: 喝腊八粥(八宝粥, 糯米、芝麻、苡仁、桂元、红枣、香菇、莲子等8种食物合煮”八宝粥”).

(9) Laba Festival
Lunar calendar – the 8th day of the 12th Month

Laba Festival, also known as Laba Rice Porridge Festival, was tradition originated from Buddhism. Legend has it that Sakyamuni became a Buddhist under a banyan on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. Afterwards, people would have rice porridge on this day in memory of the Buddha’s sufferings. Laba Rice Porridge would be cooked on this day in temples, with rice, nutlet, millet, etc. as the raw material. It would be sacrificed to the Buddha first and then given out to disciples and  the poor. Also, it is an occasion for people to give sacrifices to their ancestors and the end of a year, and to pray to heaven and earth for a  good harvest and good luck for the family.

Activities:

People celebrate the original ancestors of agricultural harvest rewards of the ceremony. Activities focus on Buddha worship, worship ancestral  spirits, celebrating the harvest and drive epidemic asserting disaster.

Typical seasonal food:

Laba Rice Porridge is made of diversified rice (glutinous  rice, oats, corns etc.), beans (soy beans, mung beans, kidney beans, cowpeas etc.), dried nuts (chestnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc.), bean curd and meat. Melon seeds, lotus seeds, pine nuts, sugar, and other preserved fruits are added to give more flavours. Since Laba Rice Porridge was believed to be blessed with good fortune and longevity, it  was also called “Longevity Blessing Porridge” and “Virtue Blessing  Porridge”. Laba porridge is now regarded as a very nutritious food in winter that has the function of strengthening the spleen, stimulating the appetite, and soothing the nerves. It is welcomed by people of different ages.

(image from http://cul.shangdu.com/wikipedia/20101231/P_168616_0__1801628286.jpg)
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