Summary

Chinese traditional festivals connect with nature and seasonal changes. They are usually celebrated with (extended) family and with a wider community. Most of them are associated with food and social rituals. Some are also celebrated in Japan, Korea and some southeast Asian countries.

If you are teaching English to Chinese students online, traditional festivals are a good topic of conversation. Students can practice English with familiar topics and you can learn about traditions and customs.

This blog gives you a cultural context of nine traditional Chinese festivals in four seasons: when it is, what it is about, what are some festival traditions and what can be a good conversation about it. Last but not least is how these festivals inspired China’s neighbouring Asian countries.

Chinese Traditional Festivals in Spring

1. Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qingming Festival)

Chinese Tomb Sweeping Festival

Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/120887937/

When is it?

It is usually at the overlapping period of late spring and early summer, based on Chinese lunar calendar. It falls on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. This makes it the 15th day after the Spring Equinox. The exact date for the Gregorian Calendar can be the 4th , 5th or 6th of April each year. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date.

What is it about?

It is a festival to worship and pay respect to ancestors.

What are some festival traditions?

The family will get together for a field trip to clean the tombstones (burial site) of their ancestors.

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

Since it is a festival to remember one’s ancestors and roots, it is appropriate to talk about one’s hometown and some family traditions.

Is it celebrated in other countries?

It’s also observed in other countries with large Chinese communities, like Malaysia and Singapore.

Chinese Traditional Festivals in Summer

2. Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Festival)

Chinese Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Festival)Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/102891301/Poster-of-The-Dragon-Boat-Festival-Chinese-Festivals

When is it?

It is on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, a date when it’s believed that the sun is exactly at the centre of the sky. Usually, it is sometime in June for the Western calendar. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date.

What is it about?

It is mainly to worship the dragon and to get rid of evil spirits.

What are some festival traditions?

There are two popular activities during this festival:

• Attend a dragon boat race: dragon boat racing is the Chinese version of rowing. A team is usually made of 18 people and it probably derived from fishermen’s leisure activities.

• Make and eat Zongzi: Zongzi is a pyramid of glutinous rice dumplings in bamboo leaves. They can be sweet (using sweet paste as fillings) or savoury (using port meat as fillings).

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

It can be fun to talk about dragons, dragon boat racing and Zongzi.

Is it celebrated in other countries?

Some other countries in Asia, like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia also celebrate it with some different features.

3. Double Seventh Festival (Qixi Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day)

 

Double Seventh Festival (Qixi Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day)Source: http://dy.163.com/v2/article/detail/ELBAECH105439V05.html

When is it?

It’s on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Translated into the Western calendar, it usually falls on some date during August. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date.

What is it about?

It is a festival to celebrate natural astrology. It is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day as it celebrates the romantic legend of two lovers, a weaver girl and a cowherd. They will cross a bridge built by magpies to meet each other on this day of the year. Therefore, people sometimes call this the magpie festival.

What are some festival traditions?

Young couples often use this opportunity to do something romantic.

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

If your students are a little young to talk about romance and love, you can ask about the child’ love for his/her parents instead.

Is it celebrated in other countries?

The Qixi festival inspired the Tanabata festival in Japan, Chilseok festival in Korea, and Thất Tịch festival in Vietnam.

Chinese Traditional Festivals in Autumn

4. Mid-autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Festival)

 

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/101787699/Mid-Autumn-Festival-packing-illustration

When is it?

The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, with a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September to early October of the Gregorian calendar. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date.

What is it about?

It is a festival to worship the moon, as well as a day when people connect with their families.

What are some festival traditions?

This festival is called mooncake festival as people eat moon cakes together. Mooncake is a rich pastry typically filled with sweet-bean or lotus-seed paste. Children’s modern-day favourite is ice cream mooncake.

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

A good topic could be the moon. Does it look different in other countries? Is there a full moon everywhere on this date? Another could be favourite foods.

Is it celebrated in other countries?

This traditional festival is also celebrated by many East and Southeast Asian people. The celebration is called Chuseok (autumn eve) in Korea, Tsukimi (moon-viewing) in Japan and Tết Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) in Vietnam

5. Double Ninth Festival (Chongyang Festival, Senior’s Festival)

 

Chinese Chongyang Festival

Source: https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E9%87%8D%E9%98%B3%E8%8A%82/128301

When is it?

It is on the 9th day of the 9th month of the Chinese calendar. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date in the Gregorian calendar.

What is it about?

It is a festival dedicated to senior citizens.

What are some festival traditions?

Usually, people will visit their elderly relatives and enjoy Autumn activities with them. These include appreciating the blossom of chrysanthemum, or a light hike.

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

Talking about their grandparents can be a good way to connect. As it is quite normal for grandparents to help with childcare, children usually will know their grandma and grandpa well.

Is it celebrated in other countries?

In Japan, the festival is known as Chōyō but also as the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊の節句, Kiku no Sekku) . In Korea, the festival is known as Jungyangjeol (중양절).

Chinese Traditional Festivals in Winter

6. Laba Festival

 

Chinese Laba Festival

Source: https://stock.adobe.com/search?load_type=search&native_visual_search=&similar_content_id=&is_recent_search=&search_type=usertyped&k=laba+festival&asset_id=406176205

When is it?

It is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date in the Gregorian calendar.

What is it about?

It has an origin from Buddhism religion as the enlightenment day of the Buddha.

What are some festival traditions?

The tradition is to eat Laba congee, or rice porridge(腊八粥), also known as the everyone’s congee. (大家粥). There are at least eight ingredients (eight is considered a lucky number for Chinese culture) for the congee. They can be various mixed grains, dried red dates, longan, chestnuts, peanuts, water caltrop, walnuts, raisins, melon seeds, etc.

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

Food is always a popular topic. Does your student like congee? What is the ingredients in his/her congee? Any favourite flavour?

Is it celebrated in other countries?

It corresponds directly to the Japanese Rohatsu and the South Asian Bodhi Day.

7. Chinese New Year’s Eve (Chuxi Festival)

 

Chinese New Year Eve (Chuxi Festival)

Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/113747629/Chinese-New-Years-Eve-2020

When is it?

‘Chu’ means remove, ‘Xi’ means evening so Chuxi is the last evening of the year based on the Chinese calendar. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date for the Gregorian calendar.

What is it about?

It is a night to celebrate with your family, to end the current year on a high note and to welcome the new year.

What are some festival traditions?

Take a look at my blog ‘Six Ways to Celebrate Chinese New Year for Your Online Classroom

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

Oh, there is so much to talk about: food, red pocket, fireworks, etc. The atmosphere is full of joy and food.

Is it celebrated in other countries?

It is one of the most important holidays in China, and has strongly influenced Lunar New Year celebrations such as the Losar of Tibet (Tibetan: ལོ་གསར་), and of China’s neighbouring cultures, including the Korean New Year (Korean: 설날, seollal), and the Tết of Vietnam. It is also celebrated worldwide in regions and countries that house significant overseas Chinese or Sinophone populations, including Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Mauritius, and Canada as well as in North America and Europe.

8. Chinese New Year ( Spring Festival)

 

Chinese New Year (Spring Festival)

Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/111898247/happy-new-year

Chinese Spring Festival is a two-week celebration right after the Chuxi festival, the last evening of the old year. It is the biggest festival of the year ending with Lantern (Yuanxiao) Festival (see next paragraph)

It is so significant that I wrote a separate blog about its traditions and customs, with suggestions for games you can play with your Chinese students relating to this festival.

9. Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Festival)

 

Chinese Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Festival)

Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/114154425/-Happy-Lantern-Festival

When is it?

The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month in the lunar Chinese calendar. Following much feasting for two weeks after Chinese New Year Eve, it is the first date of the year to see a full moon. Please click the Chinese traditional festival calendar for the exact date for the Gregorian calendar.

What is it about?

It is about enjoying the moon, the food, family time and the lantern before everything goes back to normal.

What are some festival traditions?

People usually eat Yuan Xiao, a ball-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice flour. In the evenings, they will go to watch lantern displays on the streets. In some cities, there are riddles on these lanterns for people to solve.

What can be a suitable discussion topic?

You can talk about Yuan Xiao dumplings with your students and prepare some riddles for them too.

Is it celebrated in other countries?

In Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia, it is commonly known by its Hokkien name: “Chap Goh Meh”. In Japan, the Lantern Festival is commonly known as koshōgatsu (小正月 (こしょうがつ)). In Korea, the festival is known by several names, including “정월대만월 (正月大滿月)”, “정월대보름 (正月大보름)”, “상원 (上元)”, “원소 (元宵)”, “원석 (元夕)” and “오기일 (烏忌日)”. In Vietnam, the festival is known by several names, such as in “Rằm Tháng Giêng (𠄻𣎃𦙫)”, “Tết Nguyên Tiêu (節元宵)” or “Têt Thượng Nguyên (節上元)”.


Conclusion

Festivals are happy times when people enjoy good food and memorable rituals with their families and communities. I hope you enjoy talking about them with your students.

Do you celebrate other festivals with your language students? Feel free to share in the comment box.


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