Spring Festival (The Chinese New Year) (1st of the 1st month)
The biggest and most celebrated festival in China and part of east and Southeast Asia. This usually runs over 3 days not including the weekend and is at the end of January or beginning of February. It changes in accordance with the moon.
Chinese New Year, pronounced in Chinese as "xin nian", always falls on the date of marking the beginning of the spring and thus it is also called the "Spring Festival". "xin" means "new" and "nian" means "year". There are many stories told about the origin of "nian", which actually is the name of an animal.
The old story says that the beast "nian", with a very big mouth, was so fierce it could swallow many people in one bite. People were very scared. In an effort to save the people, an old man challenged "nian" and said, "I hear that you are very capable, but can you swallow other beasts instead of people who are by no means a worthy opponent for you?"
"Nian" accepted this challenge and swallowed many beasts that hurt people and their domestic animals.
The old man became an immortal god and rode the beast "nian" to the heavens. Now that "nian" was gone people began to enjoy peaceful lives. Before the old man left, he told people to put up red paper decorations in their windows and doors at each year's end to scare away "nian" in case it returned, because red is the color the beast feared the most.
From that point, the term "guo nian" has had the meaning "pass-over" or "survive" the "nian". By tradition, Chinese businesses pay off all debts by the year-end thus causing a greater celebration.
Today people still put up red paper and set off firecrackers as a way of celebrating New Years. This tradition dates back more than a thousand years.
Lantern Festival (15th of the 1st month)
Lantern exhibits, lion and dragon dances, and eating Tang Yuan (ball-shaped boiled sweet rice dumplings with delicious stuffing.)are features of this day. It is very much celebrated in the rural areas by farmers. The Lantern Festival also marks the end of the Chinese New Year season.
Tomb Sweeping Day (April 4 or 5 or 6) Qing Ming (Pure & Bright in Chinese)
Celebrated two weeks after the vernal equinox, Tomb Sweeping Day is one of the few traditional Chinese holidays that follows the solar calendar-- typically falling on April 4, 5, or 6.
Originally it was a celebration of spring. People used to customarily go out on an excursion to "cut grass". Later it became day dedicated to the dear departed.
Duan Wu (Dragon Boat) Festival (5th of the 5th month by the Lunar Calendar)
Said to be in memory of a great patriot poet of the then State of Chu during the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.), Qu Yuan (Ch'u Yuan), who drowned himself to protest his emperor who gave in to the bully State of Chin. For fear that fish may consume his body, people of Chu launched their boats and started throwing rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river where he was drowned to feed the fish. Now the big event of dragon boat contest may be a legacy of such activity. People today still eat the bamboo-leave rice dumplings on the occasion today.
The Seventh Eve (7th of the seventh month)
It is a traditional holiday almost lost to the younger generations today. It originates from a beautiful legend about a cowboy and a fairy that were cruelly separated and were reunited once each year on this happy yet sad occasion.
Mid-Autumn Festival (15th of the eighth month by the Lunar Calendar)
It is second only to the Chinese New Year in significance. The moon on this day is the fullest and largest to the eye. Typically the whole family check out the moon while feasting on good wine, fruits and moon-cakes. There is also a beautiful story behind it. Children are told that there's a fairy on the moon living in a spacious but cold crystal palace with her sole companion, a jade rabbit. A heavenly general and friend would occasionally pay her a visit, bringing along his fragrant wine. She would then dance a beautiful dance. The shadows on the moon made the story all the more credible and fascinating to the young imaginative minds.