Lunar living

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China is a country with many ethnic groups and an abundant cultural heritage. MEI takes a look at some of the traditional festivals that take place in China each year.

Most of the traditional festivals that take place in China are based on the Chinese lunar calendar. As well as several one–day festivals, there are also three longer–period national holidays in China when almost everyone has time off work, except for employees in key sectors. It is a time when a large segment of the Chinese population is on the move. All travel bookings are extremely tight at these times, hotels generally increase their rates and airports and train stations can be very crowded, as the Chinese people love to travel. The main, multiple–day holidays held annually in China are as follows: Chinese New Year (also known as Chinese Spring Festival); International Labour Day, which is the first week of May; and finally, National Day, which is celebrated during the first week in October. In 2009, the Chinese Spring Festival fell on 26 January and was the start of the Year of the Ox. Known locally as Yinlinian, this is the most important festival in China and originated in Shang Dynasty. When the Spring Festival comes to China, spring comes to China as well. Everything comes to life and plants are prosperous. Just having experienced a cold winter, people are always excited to welcome a new spring to China. In ancient times, only the rich celebrated the Spring Festival. The poor would suffer more when Spring Festival came because the landlords would force them to pay land rent before each Spring Festival. The land rent was so high that no peasant could afford it so landlords tended to seize everything valuable from peasants in lieu of rent. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Spring Festival became a much happier festival for Chinese people. In many places, lion dances and dragon lantern shows are performed during the occasion. Generally speaking, each Chinese family will hold a Spring Festival feast, light a firecracker and give 'lucky money' to children during the Festival. Another event, the Lantern Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. It is the night of the first full moon night after Chinese New Year and marks the end of the two week long New Year holiday period. During this festival, the Chinese enjoy the full moon, beautiful lanterns, fireworks, lantern riddles and eat yuanxiao (sweet stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice flour served in soup) together. The practice of lighting lanterns has been going on at least since Qin Shihuang (259–210 BC), the first emperor to unite China. Guessing lantern riddles is a popular activity that was added to the Lantern Festival in the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Originally people wrote riddles on lanterns and people guessed them. Dragon Boat Festival, with a history of over 2000 years, takes place annually on 5 May. Since China is a vast country with many nationalities and customs, the tradition differs from region to region. In general though, the main activities held on Dragon Boat Festival are as follows: daughters return to their homes, the whole family then participate in many activities such as: hanging the portrait of Zhongkui (a man who is good at catching ghosts), welcoming the 'ghost boat', hanging up calamus (also known as Sweet Flag) and Chinese mugworts, dragon boat racing, watching or competing in martial arts, drinking calamus wine, eating wudu pies, salted eggs, zongzi (pyramid–shaped mass of glutinous rice wrapped in leaves) and fresh vegetables. Some of the activities have been exported and adopted by other countries. For example, dragon boat racing has achieved an international following. Qingming (Tomb Sweeping Day), meaning clear and bright, is one of 24 solar terms in China. The 24 solar terms represent the climate changes in a year. Peasants arrange their farming activities accordingly. Qingming usually occurs in early April each year. During the festival, Chinese people go to their ancestral gravesites to honour their departed loved ones. According to custom, people bring wine, food, fruits and zhiqian (paper made to resemble money and burned as an offering to the dead) to the sites. The food, fruits and wine are placed before the graves and then zhiqian is burned. The gravesites are cleaned and new soil and plants are added. The food is then eaten at the conclusion of this event. China's Mid–Autumn Festival is traditionally celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunisolar month. The festival is the second most important festival after the Spring Festival to Chinese people due to the moon being a symbol of peace and prosperity for the whole family. In the middle of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar the moon is full, and eight is also a popular number in Chinese culture, symbolising wealth and prosperity. So Chinese people believe this day is very propitious. The main celebrations during the Mid–Autumn Festival include appreciating the moon, eating moon cakes together and making Chinese Mid–Autumn Festival lanterns. In some places in China, people celebrate the festival in different ways. In Chaozhou, Guangdong Province, people eat taro to celebrate the festival, because the taro harvest occurs at the same time as the festival. They eat taro and hope the harvest is good in the next year. In Nanjing, people cook duck with sweet–scented osmanthus, because Nanjing people think sweet–scented osmanthus is a symbol of peace. In some places, Chinese people make fires inside towers to celebrate the festival, because they think the fire is a symbol of good business.

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