TOP 7 CHINESE FESTIVALS NOT JUST A TEFL TEACHER SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR
China, or ‘the Middle Kingdom’, as some call it, has thousands and thousands of years in its vast history, and born were many festivals that have been celebrated and revered throughout the generations, and although they have been modernized, are still held today. As a TEFL teacher in China, depending on how long you’re here for, you’ll get to experience some of these if not all. For some of these festivals, you’ll certainly get your public holidays off. When you’re not teaching English It’s a great opportunity to experience and discover China and its rich culture. Check out our posts about Chinese history here! A chance to spend your hard-earned ESL salary to go and explore. So here are our top 7 Chinese festivals a TEFL teacher should look out for and what you should do when each one comes.
CHINESE NEW YEAR (SPRING FESTIVAL) or “Chūn jié (春节)”
The most important festival on the Chinese calendar is of course Chinese New Year. The 1st day of the Chinese Lunar calendar falls somewhere between the end of January and middle of February on the Western Gregorian calendar (you can find these dates below) and comes with a 7 day holiday. With a history of over 3800 years, it is China’s grandest and most iconic celebration. Also known as the Spring Festival, it heralds the arrival of Spring and the end of the coldest part of Winter. Following a 12 year cycle, each year is assigned and represented by a Chinese zodiac animal, and then the cycle repeats. 2019 is the year of the pig and 2020 will be the year of the rat. It’s an occasion for a family reunion, get-togethers, and is the busiest travelling season in China.
An iconic custom during the festivities is to give out hongbao, lucky money in red envelopes (always looked forward to this as a kid haha ). Masses of people also attend temple fairs to respect the Gods and also watch the vibrant dragon dance. Two favourites of Chinese cuisine have also long been associated with the celebrations. Families will eat dumplings, the more you eat the luckier you will be and the more success you will have the coming year, and tangyuan, these sweet rice balls are a Chinese dessert that have come to represent reunion, very appropriate for the occasion.
Ancient legend has it that there was once a ferocious sea monster named ‘Nian’ (Nian also happens to be the Chinese word for the year) with horns and sharp teeth. At the end of each lunar year, the monster would come ashore to a village and hunt people. The villagers would hide in the mountains. But one time a strange old man who looked like a beggar arrived but no one was there to greet him, except for a grandmother who warned him about the monster. The old man was not deterred. In the night the monster came to the village but was shocked, usually, it was complete darkness but there was one house that was lit up. The monster slowly approached the house to see that the doors and windows were covered in red paper and candles were lit inside. In a rage, the monster went for the door but then pow! Pow! Pow! Loud burst of cracking sounds forced the monster back. The front door flew open and the old man came out in a red gown and in uproarious laughter, scaring the monster away. The next morning the villagers came back and were amazed to see their village still intact. It was the magic of the red colors, bright lights and firecrackers that frightened the monster away. So this is why during the festivities you will see the whole of China adorned in red lanterns, Chinese wearing red, and hear firecrackers. Red is auspicious and the national color of China. Some Chinese even wear red throughout the year to prevent bad luck, it’s time to get your lucky red underwear on!
*Chinese New Year is also known as ‘Guo Nian’, which means crossing/passing of the year and also in terms of the legend, it means surviving the monster ‘Nian’.
*2020 (Rat): Saturday, Jan 25th – Public holiday from Jan 24th – 30th
*2021 (Ox): Friday, Feb 12th – Public holiday from Feb 11th – 17th
*2022 (Tiger): Tuesday, Feb 1st – Public holiday from Jan 31st – Feb 6th
*2023 (Rabbit): Sunday, Jan 22nd – Public holiday from Jan 21st – 27th
To find out what your Chinese Zodiac animal is, check out the following article from InstantMandarin: The Chinese zodiac, Wich animal are you?
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO?
Gatecrash a Chinese family’s celebrations (only joking!), but if you’re lucky to be welcomed or invited to a Chinese family’s celebrations, then it’s worth going. Otherwise try to watch the dragon dance and attend a temple fair, definitely eat your fair share of dumplings.
LANTERN FESTIVAL or “Yuánxiāo jié (元宵节)”
On the 15th day of the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year celebrations climax with the lantern festival, marking the first full moon of the brand new year. It really is a visual and illuminating spectacle that you must see. Great chance to fill up your Facebook, Instagram, and brand new WeChat feeds.
*2020: Feb 8th
*2021: Feb 26th
*2022: Feb 15th
*2023: Feb 5th
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO?
Go and find a lantern festival near you and experience the gala of lights, also eat some tangyuan.
QINGMING FESTIVAL (TOMB-SWEEPING DAY) or “Qīngmíng jié (清明节)”
The Qingming festival usually falls on either the 4th or 5th of April and usually comes with 3 days off, if it doesn’t fall on a weekend. It is an important day of sacrifice and to remember ancestors. The name ‘Qingming’ Festival actually translates as ‘Pure Brightness’ festival, which is apt as it falls in the middle of Spring when all the flowers blossom and you can really feel Spring in its full glory. That’s why at this time you will see many families on a Spring outing.
Derived from the culture of Chinese ancestor worship, the Qingming festival dates back over 2500 years to the Zhou Dynasty. It began exclusively as a practice for imperial emperors and high court officials to bless the land for prosperity, peace and a good harvest. Then it spread to the whole of China and traditionally on this day, families will get together and visit their ancestors graves to pay their respects, sweep and maintain the tomb, hence why it is also known as the ‘tomb-sweeping’ day. Families will pray to their ancestors for luck, and good health and safety for the entire family.
Read more about the Qingming Festival in this article from InstantMandarin: What is Qingming festival?
*2020: April 4th – Public holiday from April 4th – 6th
*2021: April 4th – Public holiday from April 3rd – 5th
*2022: April 5th – Public holiday from April 3rd – 5th
*2023: April 5th – Public holiday on April 5th
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO?
Go on a Spring outing to see the full breadth of Spring.
DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL or “Duānwǔ jié (端午节)”
Falling on the 5th day of the 5th month on the Chinese lunar calendar each year, this special day commemorates the true story of the noble poet and minister, Qu Yuan, from the warring states period. Qu Yuan was a strong patriot, dismayed at the state of his beloved country and was ultimately powerless to do anything so he drowned himself into the river. The people then rowed out in Dragon boats to find Qu Yuan’s body, to disperse and distract the fish from eating his body they would drop zongzi into the water. Zongzi are delicious sticky rice dumplings of meat and glutinous rice wrapped in palm trees. This is why two of the customs synonymous with this festival are dragon boat racing and eating zongzi. Nowadays zongzi come with plenty of different flavours.
Read more about the Dragon Boat Festival in this article from InstantMandarin: Dragon boats and zongzi – the story of a festival
*2020: June 25th – Public holiday from June 25th – 27th
*2021: June 14th – Public holiday from June 12th – 14th
*2022: June 3rd – Public holiday from June 3rd – 5th
*2023: June 22nd – Public holiday from June 22nd – 24th
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO?
Try to watch a dragon boat race/ learn how to make and eat zongzi
QIXI FESTIVAL – DOUBLE-SEVENTH DAY (AKA CHINESE VALENTINE’S DAY) or “Qīxī jié (七夕节)”
Also known as the ‘double-seventh’ day as it falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, however, there is no public holiday for this one. It is still the most romantic day for Chinese, the Qixi festival can be called the Chinese version of Valentine’s day. It celebrates one of the great romantic folktales of China – the Story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl – the Legend of Niulang and Zhinu which dates back over 2600 years ago. A story of star-crossed lovers and forbidden love.
The story goes like this – Niulang, an Earthling and cowherd one day comes across an enchanting and beautiful fairy called Zhinu. She is the youngest daughter of the heavenly queen, known as the ‘weaver girl’ because she weaves the clouds in the sky. Niulang and Zhinu fall in love and have children but the heavenly Queen firmly forbids this. Zhinu is taken back to heaven but as Niulang tries to save her, the heavenly Queen with the stroke of her magical hairpin, separates mortals from immortals by creating the silver river (the milky way galaxy). It is said that on reflection the heavenly queen’s heart softens as she hears the love story, so on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, she allows Zhinu to see Niulang. A flock of magpies will create a bridge over the silver river so that the two lovers can reunite. I can hear the awwwws already.
*2020: August 25th
*2021: August 14th
*2022: August 4th
*2023: August 22nd
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO?
Are you in a relationship? Celebrate valentine’s day all over again and buy some flowers 🙂
Are you single? Don’t worry, China also has a special day for you too, it’s on the 11th of November.
MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL or “Zhōngqiū jié (中秋节)”
The moon is extremely important to the Chinese as it is the focal point of their traditional lunar calendar, no wonder why there is a day entirely dedicated to enjoying, worshiping and sacrificing to the moon – this is the Mid-Autumn Festival, hence known as the ‘moon festival’. Falling obviously in the middle of autumn on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar month, it is when the moon is at its largest and roundest.
The festival goes back thousands of years, as far back to the Zhou dynasty, in this time Chinese emperors would give sacrifice and worship the moon to bring a good harvest for the year ahead. This began in the royal courts and higher class societies but then spread to common folk and has been celebrated ever since, becoming an official public holiday in 2008 – you lucky peeps!
Someone flying to the moon
There is a widely known tale that is associated and celebrated during this time, it is the legend of Chang E flying to the moon, it goes like this. In ancient times there were ten suns in the sky causing extreme heat, drought, and difficulty to live. A talented and brave archer called Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns and became a hero, people followed him everywhere. The heavenly queen rewarded him with an elixir that once drunk will let him float to heaven and become a God. He gave this to his beautiful and kind wife, Chang E, to look after. However one of Hou Yi’s followers, the treacherous Peng Meng broke into their home to steal it. There was nothing Chang E could do but drink the potion herself, then she flew all the way to the moon the closest place to Earth and her husband she could be. Hou Yi searched everywhere for Chang E but could not find her but finally, he saw her figure on the moon. He tried to reach her but never could. So he gathered all the food that Chang E liked to an altar and sacrificed it to her in the hope of being with her again. This is one of the reasons why it is a custom for families and friends to get together and appreciate and enjoy the moon together on this day.
Mid-Autumn Festival is an important occasion for a family reunion, this is what the moon represents in its circular shape. It is also the shape of the customary delicacy at this time – the delicious pastry cake with a thick outer layer and a sweet filling inside that is ‘mooncake’!
Read more about the Mid-Autumn Festival in this article from InstantMandarin: Chinese tales – The story of mid-autumn festival
*2020: Oct 1st (As it falls on the same day as the 7-week National holiday, the public holiday will be prolonged by 1 day from Oct 1st – 8th.
*2021: Sept 21st – Public holiday from Sept 19th – 21st
*2022: Sept 10th – Public holiday from Sept 10th – 12th
*2023: Sep 29th – Public holiday on Sept 29th
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO?
Go somewhere with an excellent view of the moon at night and eat mooncake.
CHINA NATIONAL DAY (GOLDEN WEEK HOLIDAY) or “Guóqìng jié (国庆节)”
Every year on the 1st October is Chinese National Day and this celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Celebrations and big-scale activities are held right across the country. From patriotic military parades with the Chinese national anthem blearing aloud to stunning pyrotechnics of fireworks. It’s a day of national pride and the best part about it is that it’s the longest public holiday after Chinese New Year where you will get 7 days off, that’s why it’s called the ‘Golden Week’ holiday, it really is golden. During this time many Chinese will travel and there will be huge tourist crowds at the major tourist hotspots but nevertheless, you have 7 days off, a great chance for some travelling.
*2019: Oct 1st – Public holiday from Oct 1st – 7th
*2020: Oct 1st – Public holiday from Oct 1st – 8th (1 day extension as Mid-Autumn festival falls during this time)
*2021: Oct 1st – Public holiday from Oct 1st – 7th
*2022: Oct 1st – Public holiday from Oct 1st – 7th
*2023: Oct 1st – Public holiday from Oct 1st – 7th
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO?
Go and see the military parade, get a view of the amazing fireworks, but definitely do some travelling.
Well, that’s our top 7 Chinese festivals a TEFL teacher should look out for, including some tips and also dates so that when the teaching English is done, you can plan ahead for your TEFL break with some travelling plans. Travel well and be safe!
Do you want to get TEFL certified and teach English in China? Do you want to explore China and its amazing culture?
For more topics read all our posts here: TDC’s TEFL Blog