The Festivals and Foods of China

Traditional Chinese festivals are an important part of the country's history and culture, both ancient and modern. Almost every festival has its own customs which reflect the traditional practices and morality of the whole Chinese nation and its people. Many traditional customs and activities are held on specified days by people in China and even by some people in neighbouring countries. The grandest and most popular festivals are the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival,  and the Mid-autumn Festival.  Each of these Chinese festivals include the eating of a particular food among their customs. As students of Mandarin, learning about the cultural traditions, festivals, and foods of China have always been a highlight of our studies.

Spring Festival

Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, has more than 4,000 years of history. It is the most important festival for Chinese people and as such the most grand. The 2015 Spring Festival (Lunar Chinese New Year) falls on Feb. 19 and the holiday starts from Feb. 18 to Feb. 25, 2015. In preparation for Chinese New Year, every family does a thorough house cleaning and purchases enough food, including fish, meat, roasted nuts and seeds, all kinds of candies and fruits, etc, for the festival period. Also, new clothes must be bought, especially for children. Traditional foods include jiaozi or dumplings. Cold and hot dishes are all served. Fish is always an important dish which expresses people’s hope of having a wealthy year. Here are some popular Chinese New Year sayings that goes with the food:
  • 我要吃饺子,招财进宝 (zhāo cái jìn bǎo, bringing in wealth and treasure)
  • 我要吃鱼,年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú, always have more than you need)
  • 我要吃年糕,年年高升 (nián nián gāo shēng, getting higher year-after-year)
  • 我要吃汤圆,团团圆圆 (tuán tuán yuán yuán, happy family reunion)
Additional customs for this annual celebration include red scrolls with complementary poetic couplets pasted at every gate. The Chinese character 'Fu' is pasted on the center of the door and paper-cut pictures adorn windows.

Lantern Festival

Falling on the 15th day of the first lunar month, Lantern Festival is the first significant festival day after Spring Festival. The Lantern Festival of 2015 falls on March 5. The most important activity during the night of the event is watching various wonderful Chinese lanterns during which time very household eats yuanxiao (a rice ball stuffed with different fillings). For this reason, the festival is sometimes referred to as Yuan Xiao Festival. For its rich and colorful activities, it is regarded as the most recreational among all the Chinese festivals and a day for appreciating the bright full moon, and family reunion. Also a part of the Lantern Festival is a fun custom of guessing riddles. People write all kinds of riddles on pieces of paper, and paste them on the colorful lanterns. Guests enjoy trying to answer the riddle and gifts are presented to the people who get the right answers.

Dragon Boat Festival

Falling on the 5th day of the 5th month according to Chinese lunar calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival is one of great significance. It has been held annually for more than 2,000 years and is notable for its educational influence. The festival commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC). Zongzi is the special food eaten here. Made with sticky rice, it has different shapes and various fillings. In the north part of the country, people favor the jujube as filling, while the south sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, or egg yolk. Many families make zongzi by themselves. When making it, soaking the glutinous rice, washing the reed or bamboo leaves and wrapping zongzi with leaves are the most important parts. Other customs associated with the Dragon Boat Festival include dragon boat racing, wearing a perfume pouch, tying five-colour silk thread, and hanging mugwort leaves and calamus.

Mid-Autumn Festival

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second grandest festival after the Spring Festival. It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year the moon is at its roundest and brightest. Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month, thus September 27th for 2015. The Yuebing or Moon Cake, in various flavors according to region, is the special food of Mid-Autumn Festival. On that day, people sacrifice moon cakes to the moon as an offering and eat them for celebration. Moon cakes are round, symbolizing the reunion of a family. It is thereby easy to understand how eating moon cakes under the round moon can evoke longing for distant relatives and friends. Nowadays, people present moon cakes to relatives and friends to demonstrate that they wish them a long and happy life.


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