Chinese Festivals

 

There are many exciting festivals in the Chinese Calendar.  All have historical and mythical origins but continue to be celebrated in modern China.  Most are also celebrated throughout Asia and in many other countries around the world where the Chinese have settled.  The SACAS Calendar of Events includes events based each of the following significant Chinese festivals.  Further information on each is included below:

  • Chinese New Year (Chunjie, or Nongli Xinnian)
  • Lantern Festival (Yuan-Xiao)
  • Clear-Bright Day (Qing-Ming-Jie)   
  • Dragon Boat Festival (Duan-Wu-Jei)
  • Chinese Valentines Day (Qi-Qiao-Jie)
  • The Moon Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie)

Chinese New Year (Chunjie, or Nongli Xinnian)

The Festivals of the Chinese New Year are the longest and most well known in the Chinese Calendar.  As such a whole page has been dedicated to Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival on this web site.  Just click the links and check it out.

 

Lantern Festival (Yuan-Xiao)   

See Above

 

Clear-Bright Day (Qing-Ming-Jie)   

Each year in early April the Chinese celebrate a festival they call "Qing-Ming-Jie".  This has been roughly translated into English as the "Clear-Bright-Day".  Traditionally it was a time to show respect to one's ancestors, but for the modern Chinese it has evolved into a family focused day of mass picnics.  These picnics provide the perfect excuse to pursue another favourite Chinese pass-time.  Kite Flying!

 

The Legend of Clear-Bright-Day.

Once upon a time in the Jin Kingdom (770-476BC) an evil Concubine falsely accused Crown Prince Chong'er of plotting rebellion.  Forced to flee for his life, Chong'er took to the mountains with his loyal followers including an official named Jie.  The mountains were cold and food was scarce.  In fact food was so scarce that the Crown Prince was soon close to death.  To save Chong'er, Jie cut flesh off his own leg and cooked it for him. Chong'er was so moved by this gesture that he knelt before Jie and with tears in his eyes he asked how he could ever repay him.  Jie simply asked that he regain the crown and govern as a just King.  However, after finally ascending to the throne, Chong'er began to forget about Jie.  Jie was so sad that he left to live in the mountains with his mother. Feeling guilty, Chong'er felt went looking for him but the forest was too dense.  So Chong'er ordered that the mountain be set on fire to force Jie out of hiding.  Jie and his mother were later found dead under a willow tree.  A note written by him in blood said: "I cut off my own flesh to dedicate to you, only to wish my king will always be clear and bright. "  Moved by this the King established the "Clear-Bright-Day".  He also began the practice of "Hanshi" which is the eating cold food on the day before the festival.  This meant that smoke or fire would never be seen again on that special day.  During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) this early Chinese history combined with a reverence for one's ancestors .  People began to mark the day by sweeping tombs.  Soon the idea that people should have an excursion into the wilderness also took hold.  All of this tradition led to the current practice of having a family picnic in the great outdoors.
 
So Why Kites? 
The Chinese are thought to have invented the kite over 2500 years ago - a millennium before the west.  So there is a great tradition of kite making and kite flying in China that extends well beyond this single festival.  However one notable feature of this festival is that kites are flown both during the day and at night.  At night a string of little lanterns is tied to the kite or the string and as they climb into the night sky they look like shining stars.  The Chinese call them "god's lanterns."  Another tradition possibly provides the best explanation as to why kites became so popular at this time of the year.  It holds that in early April kites were flown as high as possible before having their strings cut.  This would release the kite to fly away and carry the gloom of winter with it.  Thus the kite became a symbol of the coming Spring.
 
A Chinese Folk-Song
April is the Qing Ming Festival.
We five sisters go for a spring walk.
We take with us kites to fly.
Oldest sister has a butterfly kite,
Second sister has a green dragonfly,
Three sisters play with a "loving couple" star kite
The two star kites are shining,
Smiling on the man working in the field
and the woman who waves,
All the colours are wonderful and beautiful.

 

 

Dragon Boat Festival (Duan-Wu-Jei)

The Dragon Boat Festival is held on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month and as such it is also known as Double Fifth Day.  The Dragon Boat Festival has possibly the longest history of any Chinese Festival. The boat races held on this day are symbolic of the boats used in the attempt to rescue Chu Yuan, a poet who drowned in 277 B.C.  Legend has it that the people loved Chu Yaun so much that they threw rice into the water to prevent the fish from eating his body.  Today they throw "Zongzi" which are rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied up with silk thread.  Some say this tradition followed a dream in which Chu Yaun appeared and complained that the fish were eating all the rice leaving nothing for him.  Packaging up the rice gave Chu Yaun time to eat his share. The celebration is a time for protection from evil for the rest of the year. This is achieved in a number of ways such as the making and wearing of 5-coloured string bracelets, hanging herbs on the front door and consuming rice dumplings and nutritious and alcoholic drinks.  It is also said that if one manages to stand an egg on it's end at exactly 12.00 noon the following year will be very lucky!

 

Dotting of the Eyes Ceremony

The Dotting of the Eyes Ceremony is performed on Dragon Boats each year before they race.  The boats are blessed and the dragons awakened by a ritual that includes chanting, offerings and prayers to ward off evil and to make the boats fierce.  Like many boating rituals around the world the local community get involved to ensure good fortune for the coming year.  An honoured member of the community is always chosen to dot the eye of the dragons.  Afterwards the dragon's eyes are drawn in red paint.

 

Chinese Valentines Day (Qi-Qiao-Jie)

Sometimes referred to as the Daughters Festival or Seventh Night Festival, Chinese Valentines Day is held on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month.  It is a good example of a modern day celebration with ancient origins. 

In ancient China girls would pray to the "Weaving Maid Star" to become more intelligent and skilled so that they could attract a quality husband.  Their beauty regime for the Festival was to wash their hair the night before and in the morning to wash their faces in cold water.  On this day all unmarried women could make a single wish.  They would also place a needle in a bucket of water and if it floated they were ready for marriage.    They would also throw onto their roof the five-coloured string bracelets they had made during the earlier Dragon Boat Festival.  It was hoped that magpies would carry them to heaven and build a bridge.  This bridge would join the Weaving Maid and her lover the Cow Herder who had been cruelly separated by the Jade Emperor.  Just like our own Valentines Day, Qi-Qiao-Jie has become a very commercial event in modern China.  Women, and increasingly men, can expect to receive chocolates, flowers and even jewelry.  Many Chinese are now embracing the western Valentines Day as well

 

The Moon Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie)

Every year on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is round and at its maximum brightness, the Chinese celebrate "Zhong Qui Jie". The Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, is an important ancient event that dates back more than 2,000 years. The festival signals the arrival of the annual harvest and was a time for the ancient Chinese to express their gratitude to the gods of both heaven and earth.  Indeed this was a day to both worship the moon god and to celebrate the birthday of the earth god "T'u-ti Kung". As families traditionally gathered together at the Moon Festival the round shape of the moon became a symbol of family reunion.  To this day some Chinese still refer to the Moon Festival as "Reunion Day". 

 

The History of Moon Cakes

During the Yuan dynasty (A.D.1280-1368) the Mongolian people ruled China . Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (A.D.960-1280) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule, and devised a way to coordinate a rebellion without being discovered.  The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered special cakes to be made.  Baked into each cake was a message outlining the plans for rebellion.  Apparently mooncakes were perfect for hiding and passing along plans as the Mongols did not eat them.  Families were instructed not to eat the mooncakes until the day of the moon festival, when the rebellion would take place.  What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644). Today, mooncakes are eaten to commemorate this legend and are eaten when the moon is at it's fullest and brightest. The round mooncakes have become a symbol of family unity and closeness. The traditional mooncake is a baked pastry filled with lotus seed paste and a salted egg yolk in the centre. Today, they are filled with many different types of fillings such as red bean paste, jam, mixed nuts and dried fruits.

 

A Children's Story of Chang'E & the Jade Rabbit

Once upon a time in ancient China the earth had 10 suns circling over it. One day, all 10 suns appeared together and the world became too hot.  An Archer, Hou Yi, shot down 9 of the suns with his bow and arrows and saved the world. The Archer's fame spread and the Queen Mother of the West "Xi Wang Mu" rewarded him with a potion of immortality.  But she warned him not to take all of the potion at once.  However the Archer's wife, Chang'E, found the potion and swallowed it all in one gulp! Chang'E began to float away and her husband chased after her, but he couldn't catch her. Chang'E flew all the way to the moon.  When she arrived she coughed and the magic potion reappeared and changed into a White Jade Rabbit. The smiling rabbit hopped over to Chang'E and began to prepare a secret recipe for long life. All day long, the Rabbit kept her company, humming and singing as he worked.    The Archer moved into the Palace of the Sun, but he soon missed Chang'E.  On the 15th day of each month, when the moon is full, he visits his wife in the Moon Palace .  On the eighth month, people celebrate the Moon Festival and send Chang'E their special wishes.  And the Jade Rabbit?  Well, to this very day he sits on the moon and watches the celebrations.  Why not take a look at the moon tonight and say hello to the Jade Rabbit.