You may think that as Chinese New Year comes to an end, there isn’t much else you can comfortably tap into to enjoy until the next one. That is not the case. Chinese life, even in the 21st century, is closely connected to their traditional festivals, of which there is a full calendar all year round. Here are five more you can look forward to after Spring Festival.
Qing Ming Jie, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, or “Festival of Pure Brightness”, falls on the 4th day of the fourth lunar month, and is the first of China’s three annual festivals of the dead. This is a day when one’s ancestors, or deceased loved ones, should be honoured. Rituals usually take the form of cleaning graves and tombstones and making fresh offerings. Schools in China usually have students springclean the building and take them on a trip to sweep the tombs of great historical figures, such as revolutionary martyrs. So apart from your family graves, you can choose your own great personages to whose graves you may wish to pay a tribute on this day. It’s not all work. This is a time to enjoy the spring weather and get plenty of outdoor exercise. You can literally make a meal of it too, by bringing a picnic. Cold foods are traditionally taken the day before Qing Ming.
Duan Wu Jie, also known as Dragon Boat Festival, is celebrated on the 5th of the fifth lunar month. This is China’s ultimate summer fest. According to Chinese cosmology, it is from this day of the year, that the forces of Yang starts to outweigh the forces of the Yin. It’s a time for keeping fit and preparing oneself against germs that will become rife as the weather gets warmer. Why not join your local dragon boat rowing club to train to take part in an exciting race next year. Look a recipe for Zong Zi, delicious glutinous rice parcels traditionally filled with savoury meats, mushrooms and mung beans, or sweet date and red bean paste. The very first Zong Zi on were made on Duan Wu festival to commemorate the tragic fate of the great poet and statesmen of Chu, Qu Yuan.
Qi Xi, also known as Seven Seven, because it falls on the 7th of the seventh lunar month, is the Chinese Valentine’s Day. Legend says that once there was a cowherd who met a beautiful goddess, they fell in love, and she settled down in the human world with him, living as a weaver and bearing him children. The gods eventually found out, and summoned the goddess back to the skies, banishing her return to the human world. But her mother, the Great Mother of the West, took pity on her youngest daughter and allowed her to return, just one day a year, on seven seven, to see her husband. Each year, on this day, sympathetic magpies, build a bridge across the galaxy for the forbidden lovers to meet. Because of the goddess’ weaving skills, Qi Xi is also celebrated as Qi Qiao, the Festival of Skills. So on this day, women perform rituals and offer prayers that they may become more adept in this area, which refers to skills involved in any part of any textile crafts. The festival has come back into fashion especially in the last decade. For men and women in the fashion or textiles industry, and cosplayers, this is a major festival to look out for. Many couples are now choosing to wed on this day, in traditional Chinese wedding clothes, which in itself is a celebration of traditional Chinese crafts, involving copious amounts of silks and embroidery.
Zhong Yuan, also known as Hungary Ghost Festival, or Ghost Month, begins on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, is the second and other major annual Chinese festival of the dead, after Qing Ming. The nature of this festivity shares many commonalities with the Mexican Dias De Muertos. It’s a time when spirits of one’s dead relatives and loved ones come back for a visit, in both cultures food and drink is offered to these spirits. During this time, there is great fun to be had, telling ghost stories, dressing up as Jiang Shi (Chinese monsters similar to zombies) and deities of the Underworld, and gathering your friends for a horror movie marathon. In China, major horror movies are released on this day, rather than Halloween. You also can make lotus lanterns, which are believed to lead the spirits back to the underworld, or help any stray souls find their way. Colorful processions on Zhong Yuan feature giant paper statues of Cheng Huang, the city god, who is believed to guard the gates to the underworld.
Zhong Qiu Jie, or Mid-Autumn Festival is China’s harvest festival. Popularly known as the Moon Festival, it occurs on the 15th of the eighth lunar month, when the moon appears to be at its brightest and biggest, in the entire year. This is a time to feast on the plentiful harvest, and get together with your family. In the ancient times, those away from home, looked up at the moon and felt connected to their loved ones, who would be gazing at the same orb, even though thousands of Li apart. Therefore the festival can carry special meaning to the diaspora or those temporarily living abroad, whichever part of the world you are from. Treat yourself to plenty of fruits of the season and other auspicious foods bearing seeds, (a symbol of fertility) such as lotus root, and crab, which would be, around this time of the year, laden with roe. The most famous food of Zhong Qiu Jie is of course, moon cakes, usually made up of a sweet paste of lotus seed or red beans with a thin baked outer skin and sometimes an egg yolk or two in the centre, to represent the moon. There are now hundreds of flavours to choose from.
I hope I have given you more colorful Chinese celebrations to mark on your calendars for the rest of the year and some time to prepare ahead. If you have never celebrated another Chinese festival apart from New Year, you can start with Yuan Xiao Jie, or Lantern Festival, which marks the 15th day of the first lunar month, the end of Spring Festival, and the formal beginning of the year. This happens next week, so read about it here and get ready!
Posted in Culture and tagged china, Chinese culture, Dragon Boat Festival, Duan Wu, festivals, Ghost Month, mid-autumn festival, Moon Festival, Qi Qiao, Qi Xi, Qing Ming, Tomb Sweeping Day, Valentine's Day, Zhong Qiu, Zhong Yuan