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Culture Folk-custom

Traditional Festivals

Dragon Boat Festival | Ghost Festival
Middle-Autumn Festival | The Seventh Eve | Spring Festival

[ Dragon Boat Festival ]

This major festival combines a traditional celebration with an exciting, fast-paced sporting event. Dragon Boat("Tuen Ng") Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and together with Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival forms one of the three major Chinese holidays. Since the summer is a time when diseases most easily spread, Dragon Boat Festival began as an occasion for driving off evil spirits and pestilence and for finding peace in one's life. The festival was later enriched by the legend of the patriot Chu Yuan.

Rowing dragon boats began as a ceremony for supplicating the God of Water to prevent disaster and bring fortune and later attached the rural custom of punting on the Milo River in search for Chu Yuan's body.

The festival's significance as a time for warding off evil and disease is symbolized by a number of customary practices such as hanging calamus and moxa on the front door.The most popular dish during Dragon Boat Festival is tzung tzu, originally made to feed the fishes in the river, thus they won't eat the body of Chu Yuan. Later, eating tzung tzu became the custom of memory patriot Chu Yuan.

Of all the major holidays celebrated in China, Dragon Boat Festival has the longest history. Occurring at the beginning of summer when insects thrives, the festival was distinguished from other occasions in earlier days as a time for reminding family members to take care of their health. The Chinese continue to heed this wisdom, however, by replacing the traditional customs of hanging calamus and moxa, drinking hsiung huang wine, and giving sachets, with more advanced methods for protecting one's health.

[ Ghost Festival ] ]

Just as the West has Halloween for ghosts and ghouls, so also does Chinese have a holiday to fete the departed spirits of the underworld-The Ghost Festival. Ghosts roam the world every year for a lunar month, it is said. In some areas of China, visitors can see small roadside fires, where believers burn paper money and other offerings to appease the restless spirits, who have temporarily been released from Hades.

The Ghost festival is also called Half July (Lunar). It is a popular occasion celebrated throughout China on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. It will be 25th Augest this year.

Historically, families offer sacrifices of the newly harvested grain to departed ancestors on this day, which also coincides with the Buddhist Ullambana (Deliverance) Festival and the Taoist Ghost Festival. Since each of these traditions in some way honors the spirits of the departed, the seventh lunar month has come to be known as Ghost Month, celebrated as a time when the "Good Brethren" (ghosts from the underworld) come back to earth to feast on the victuals offered by the living. Over time the Ullambana Festival and Ghost Festival have melded together to become the present day Chung Yuan Putu or "Mid-origin Passage to Universal Salvation."

The Chinese believe that the dead become ghosts roaming between Heaven and earth. Spirits without descendants to care for them are prayed to during Ghost Festival so that they may also enjoy the warmth of life among the living. This custom, an extension of the traditional Chinese ethic of "universal love," has been woven together with the didactic legend "Moginlin Saving His Mother From Hades," giving Ghost Festival positive significance as a time for remembering the importance of filial piety. People now have taken releasing river light as a important activity at the time. It is said that the river light can conform and warm the homeless ghosts.

[ Middle-Autumn Festival ]

It is now the eighth month in the lunar calendar, the time for the Chinese to celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival. It is so called because it is in the middle of the eighth month, which is a full moon. We used to celebrate the full moon by fruit, moon cake, and children played their lanterns with neighbor. Why should people celebrate the moon in mid-Autumn? It because of a story happened long long time ago in China.

Many years ago, there was a king in China. He was a brave man who did lots of belifits to the people. He admired a beautiful girl and made her stay in the palace so that he could see her whenever he wanted. But, the girl did not like the frightful figure of the king. She seldomly spoke a word in the palace. Each time the king went to her place, he used to show her some treasures and brought some gifts to the girl in order to make her smile and speak.

On every full moon, the girl would burned incenses and wax candles to worship the moon. People believed that there was a god lived in the moon that made the moon shine. Girls who wanted to be a beauty and have a handsome husband should worship the moon.

One day, the full moon of the eighth month, the king brought three herbs pills to show her.

"This is from the priest of the palace. If I eat them up, I can live forever." He exclaimed.

This was the first time the girl stuffs he brought.

He continued,"If you and I both take one, we will both live forever. No one can take you away from me!"

Because the king afraid of the pills would have side effects. He forced the girl to take the pill first. If nothing wrong with her after taking the pill, he would take it immediately. However, the girl recognized that if she took all three of them, the king would left her eventually. Therefore, the first time, she spoke to the king,"Let me have a look of the pills first. Otherwise, I will not try at all."

The king surprisingly the girl talked to him. So, he handed the pills to the girl. She did not say anything but eat all of them. The king was extremely angry. He wanted to kill her.

At this moment, the girl started to fly. She could fly because of the intake of the pills. The king could not catch her, but watched her flew toward the moon and disappeared.

After that, people believed that there was a beautiful girl stay in the moon with a little old man and a bunny. The old man was believed to be the god inside the moon and the bunny was his pet. Day after day, Chinese believed that there were people lived in the moon. Their movement made the dark spot when we looked up to the moon. People used to worship the girl to glorify her chastity. So, on every full moon of the mid-Autumn became a festival in order to memorize her.

Moon in Chinese Celestial Cosmology

The choice of the festival's theme -- celebrating the glories and mysteries of the moon -- was a natural. Along with the sun, the moon has long been an object of human curiosity and worship. "It is probable that sun and moon were early held to be deities and that they were the first visible objects of worship," according to the book "Sketches of the History of Man." To the most ancient ancestors of the Chinese, the sun and the moon were considered the "chief objects of veneration," according to records dating to the Han dynasty emperor Wu Di (157-87 B.C.).

In ancient Asian mythology, there is a strong relationship between the moon and water. The moon is said to regulate reservoirs and supplies of water. There is a suggestion that the moon produces fertility and freshness in the soil. The moon's role in bountiful harvests is widely recognized during autumns around the world.

In Chinese celestial cosmology, the moon represents the female principle, or yin. During ancient autumn Moon Festivals, women took center stage because the moon is considered feminine. Only women took part in Moon Festival rituals on the night of the full moon. Altars would be set up in households, and when the full moon appeared, women would make offerings of incense, candles, fruit, flowers, and mooncakes.

The enduring legend of the Moon Goddess, Chang O (Chang-E in other transliterations), reflects the feminine principle of yin, as opposed to the masculine principle of yang, which is symbolized by the sun.

On the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar(24th Sept. this year), the moon is full and it is time for the Chinese people to mark their Moon Festival, or the Mid-Autumn Festival. The round shape symbolizes family reunion. Therefore the day is a holiday for family members to get together and enjoy the full moon - an auspicious token of abundance, harmony and luck.

Sons and daughters will come back to their parents' house. Sometimes people who have already settled overseas will return to visit their parents on that day. Adults will usually indulge in fragrant moon cakes of many varieties with a good cup of piping hot Chinese tea, while the little ones run around with their brightly-lit lanterns. After nightfall, entire families go out under the stars for a walk or picnics, looking up at the full silver moon, thinking of their nearby relatives or friends, as well as those who are far from home. A line from a verse "The moon at the home village is exceptionally brighter" expresses those feelings. It is also a romantic night for the lovers, who sit holding hands on riverbanks and park benches, enraptured by the brightest moon of the year.

Round "moon cakes", made of fruit, ice cream, yogurt, pork, mushrooms, green tea, flowers, jelly etc., are a traditional food eaten during the festival. People also enjoy pomelos on this day; yu, the Chinese word for pomelo, sounds the same as another Chinese word to beseech the moon god for protection.

[ The Seventh Eve ]

Clouds float like works of art;
Stars shoot with grief at heart.
Across the Milky Way the Cowherd meets the Maid.
When autumn's Golden Wind embraces Dew of Jade,
All the love scenes on earth, however many, fade.

Their tend love flows like a stream;
This happy date seems but a dream.
Can they bear a separate homeward way?
If love between both sides can last for aye,
Why need they stay together night and day?

-Immortal at the Magpie Bridge
by Qin Guan

This poem tells about the tale of a fairy and a peasant, which is said to be the origin of "the Seventh Eve"(the seventh night of the seventh month in lunar calendar)-a folk festival of Chines people.( Click here for details of the story).

The Girl Weaver and A Peasant

It is one of the famous Chinese legend. This story is about the Girl Weaver and A Peasant who named "Lang". They can only see each other once a year, at the day of July the seventh of the Chinese calendar. Now the people called the Vega and the Altair.

Long time ago, when people still believe there were god and goddess in the heaved. When a day in a heaven as the Taoist God. He rules everyone and everything in the heaven and the earth. He has seven daughters. However, he only favors his seventh daughter. She is the most incredible one. She is the most intelligent, the prettiest and has the most skillful weave talent among her other six older sisters. Since she has the most outstanding weave skill, people called her the Girl Weaver. The Girl Weaver love to spend her time with her sisters in the heaven until she was a teenage.

One day, the seven daughters of the Taoist God felt that is bore to stay in the heaven. Therefore, they decided to go down to the heaven for a walk. That was a humid day. When the seven ladies got down to the earth, the first thing they saw was a beautiful pond with clear and cool water, with colorful flowers, singing birds, green and lively grass around. They were attractive by nature, they decide to take a bath in the pond. As they really enjoying their bath, the sky turns to gray and dark, wind blow very strong, and rain like pouring water. The seven ladies realize that is a signal that their father are calling them home. They rush to dress up and flew back to the heaven. However, they lost their youngest sister, the Girl Weaver. Since the wind was si strong, her cloth had been blow to a grass land. When she is saw her cloth back. A young, handsome and strong peasant picked them up and gave her back in a very gentle manner. At this very first second, these two love each other in the first sign. Since then, the Girl Weaver carefully observe this young peasant from the heaven. She found that he is very hard working and honest and named "Lang". He has a cow that it out to the grass land everyday. She discussed her feelings with her older sisters. She decided to go to the earth and marry him. Finally, she married to " Lang".

After they married, Lang goes to the farm, and the Girl Weaver cooks, cleans and weaves. They really enjoy their life. However, the happy moment didn't last for long. The Taoist God finally discovered the Girl Weaver's secret. He was seriously mad. He sent four soldiers to earth this time. When they were trying to guard the Girl Weaver back th the heaven, Lang came home. However, He can not do anything, because the soldiers are very powerful. Suddenly, the cow talks. He said "Take mu horn, it will help you to chase your wife back. Put your kids on the bamboo basket and carry them with you. I was one of the god in the heaven. Because I brook one of the rules, the Taoist God punish me by sent me down to the earth to suffer. Go And Hurry." Lang follow what the cow said. Suddenly, the whether change, a storm was coming. It was very strong that cause a great flood on the earth. They followed the soldiers and calling each other's name. When there was only one feet distance between Lang and the Girl Weaver. The Goddess wave her fade clasp. Suddenly, the rain between the couple brook into two side. Each of the couple like stand on the side of an ocean. Lang's ox horn can't flew to the other side. They separated.

At this moment over a million of birds flew from far and near, they build a bird bridge. This bridge ia long enough and strong enough for Lang to walk onto and catch his wife. The Goddess saw it, and she was impress by the bird and the strong love between her daughter and Lang. Finally, she made an announcement that since the goddess cannot be withe the people on earth. She allowed her daughter, the Girl Weaver and Lang to see each other once a year of today. That was July seven of the Chinese calendar. Also, birds are volunteer to be their bridge for them to see each other.

Since then, Lang and the Girl Weaver meet each other on that day. Therefore, on the seventh day of July of the Chinese calendar, we will hardly see a bird is cruise on the sky or singing on the tree. They are on duty, they need to build the bird bridge. Also, on that day it is always raining. People said that those are the tear of Lang and the Girl Weaver.

This year the Seventh Eve(Qixi in Pinying) is on 17th August. At present, people in China take the day as their daughter's day. In this day, girls talk to each other about their secrets and estimate their future marriage life in various old ways. Lovers may change gifts and promises. This day can be called the Chinese valentine's day.

[ Spring Festival ]

A. introduction

Far and away the most important holiday in China is Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese New Year. The date for this annual celebration are determined by the lunar calendar, so the timing of the holiday(the 1st day of a lunar year)varies from late January to early February.

The festival actually begins on the eve of the lunar New Year's Day and ends on the fifth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, which is called the Lantern Festival.

B. What People Do

Preparations for the New Year begin several days early, when houses are thoroughly cleaned, debts repaid, hair cut and new clothes purchased.

"Guo Nian," meaning "passing the year," is the common term among the Chinese people for celebrating the Spring Festival. It actually means greeting the new year. At midnight at the turn of the old and new year, people used to let off fire-crackers which serve to drive away the evil spirits and to greet the arrival of the new year. In an instant the whole city would be engulfed in the deafening noise of the firecrackers.

On New Year's Eve, all the members of families come together to feast. Jiaozi, a steamed dumpling as pictured below, is popular in the north, while southerners favor a sticky sweet glutinous rice pudding called nian gao.

C. Special Performance

Chinese people love excitement, and Chinese New Year are times of special celebration and joy. Singing and dancing are everywhere. In spite of the heavy influence of Western culture, the various customs and activities accompanying traditional fests and celebrations are still observed with enthusiasm. Many of these folk customs and performances are incorporated into the festival celebrations and competitions held on Chinese New Year and other festivals, and have been passed down from generation to generation. The most common of these are perhaps the dragon dance and lion dance.

D. A Folk Tale

Many consider the Lantern Festival to be the climax of New Year celebrations.

Long ago in China, there was a girl named Yuan Xiao who worked in the palace belonging to Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty, as a lowly servant. Though she was intelligent, full of kindness in her heart and had many friends amongst the servants, she grew very homesick as she was not allowed to leave the palace grounds. A minister called Shuo Dong Fang eventually befriended her. He thought up a clever plan to distract the emperor so that Yuan Xiao could leave the palace secretly and visit her family again.

Shuo excitedly informed the emperor that the Supreme Deity of Heaven had ordered the God of Fire to burn the city of Chang-an to the ground on the 16th day of the lunar year. Shuo also added that the only way to avert this was to set off firecrackers and flood the city streets with red lanterns. And all the palace maids, too, were required to take lanterns and parade in the streets. As if that wasn't enough, Shuo further recommended that the emperor allowed Yuan Xiao to personally present dumplings to the God of Fire; once he was satiated, the city would thus be spared.

So it was that the emperor ordered the city of Chang-an to keep busy that entire night letting off firecrackers and playing with lanterns. Yuan Xiao took advantage of the confusion to run off outside the palace walls and spend the night with her family, sharing with them the imperial dumplings.

E. Tranditions Today

Spring cleaning, home decorations, paying respects, receiving hongbao and all things red: these are part and parcel of Chinese New Year celebrations, each holding special and auspicious significance for the coming year. No wonder members of the older generation are often upset when these traditions are not kept!