The School of Chinese Language

Traditionally, as an integral part of their social and community life, the Chinese have followed the lunar calendar which is said to be almost 4000 years old. Chinese Festive days are therefore also calculated according to the lunar calendar. Here are some of the most important Festivals of China, celebrated all over China and by the Chinese Diaspora:

New Year according to the Gregorian solar calendar is the first day of the first month of January. The Chinese New Year or ‘the Spring Festival’ is the ’Lunar New Year’ which falls on the first day of the first lunar month. The Lunar New Year can occur anytime between the latter half of January and the end of February.

It is a major festival in China and almost all Chinese enjoy at least 7 days’ of holiday. The most important part of the festival is that the entire family gathers together. Therefore, all Chinese try to get back to their native home to celebrate; the hustle bustle and travelling in trains packed like sardines is part of the flavor of the season but foreigners are advised to stay away!

The color RED plays the No.1 role in this festival.  Poetic couplets wishing the household happiness, prosperity and longevity are written in the red paper and pasted on either side of the door. The cut red paper is pasted on the windows or the tools of work or even on cars.  Noisy and colourful firecrackers are a must on New Year’s Eve as well as on New Year’s Day, supposedly to warn off the evil –nian spirits. The reason is simple; the big bad nian is evil but scared of anything red and noise. For children in the family, it is a day to showoff brand new clothes and/or the red envelope with a cash gift from their parents, grandparents and close relatives who may be visiting—the more the merrier! Everybody consumes vast quantities of food (Especially Jiaozi dumpling on New Year’s Eve which are said to ensure amicable relations within the family).

Another special food linked to Chinese New Year is Nian Gao, made from glutinous rice, sugar, chestnut, dates and lotus leaves. The name of this sticky rice delicacy sounds like another word which means “a higher level” in the next year. And the fish ”yu” sounds like another word which means will ‘save more money’ or attain prosperity. The Lion and Dragon dances are performed to the noisy accompaniment of gongs and drums. There is a special four-hour “Spring Festival Gala Evening” TV program on New Year’s Eve which no true Chinese at home or abroad would dream of missing.

“The Lantern Festival” or the “Feast of the first full moon” falls on the15th day of the Spring Festival. People make (nowadays buy) lanterns which are then exhibited at colorful lantern fairs, usually held in a park. Yuanxiao are the special food associated with the Lantern Festival. They are small round dumplings made of glutinous rice also, usually with a sweet filling. Their roundness symbolizes the full moon. In fact this has become so popular that now that it is available at fast food outlets and supermarkets everyday and everywhere.


The pure brightness Festival falls during the first few days of the third lunar month. Now it is fixed on 4th April of the English calendar. This is the day on which the Chinese traditionally “sweep” the graves of their dead and pay them their respects. This used to involve making offerings of food and wine, burning incense, candles and paper money. This may still happen in the countryside but people in the towns generally confine themselves to tidying up the graveyard and laying white flowers on the graves. The origin of this festival is linked to a famous Poem by Du Mu which shows the sad feeling of people in this festival. “Qingming shijie yu fenfen; Jieshang xingren yu duanhun; Yu wen jiujia hechu you; mutong yaozhi xinghuacun.

The Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and commemorates Quyuan a great poet and patriot of the state of Chu during the warring states period (475-221BC). The king of his state was much weaker and did nothing for his subjects. The poet was unhappy to see the plight of the people and jumped into the river in despair. When the people heard the news, they were heartbroken. They could not save his life but they tried to save his mortal remains being consumed by the fish in the water. They all put food into the river to feed the fish so that the fish would spare his body. On this festival, Chinese eat zongzi which is again made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. The dumplings can be filled with beans, seeds or meat even salt eggs etc. The dumplings are eaten, exchanged and put into river water. The long dragon boats racing on this day are also a reminder of the noisy boat races that were held to distract the fish.

“The mid- autumn festival” falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. It is the brightest and clearest day of the year. Whilst you watch the resplendent moon with your loved ones, the traditional food eaten is moon cakes, special pastries with savory or sweet fillings of various kinds. People usually partake dinner in the yard with their family or friends under the full moon. They drink some wine, share the moon cakes and talk about how bright the moon is. Legend has it that Chang’e, the Goddess flew to the moon and still lives there. On Mid Autumn Moon Festival, if you are satiated with enough wine and moon cakes and glance above at the sky, you may see the lovely Chang’e, along with a white and cute rabbit of Chinese Mythology.