Chinese New Year – Festivals of China’s Traditional Calendar

What is the definition of a festival? According to Webster’s Dictionary a festival is “a periodic occasion, especially of cultural importance, marked by special activities, feasts, contests, and ceremonial observances.” A festival can be annual, monthly, or seasonal in duration. A festival can be a religious or public observance marking a special characteristic of the culture or religion of the community. It can be commemorated as a national or local holiday, celebration, or cultural activity. A festival can also mark the passage of a milestone in time or history.

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Harvest festivals are particularly important in the Muslim tradition since the month of Ramadan falls on Wednesdays and Fridays in the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to sunset. The lighting of a fire symbolizes the end of the fasting period and gives thanks to Allah, the Most High. Harvest festivals celebrate the yield that the land has produced during the year, particularly in areas with large agricultural sectors. A festival can be dedicated to the bounty of nature and what it does for the soil and the farmer.

In India there are many festivals, some are on a religious significance and others mark a special event. In the Hindu tradition Diwali, which is observed at the end of August or September is a festival of happiness and joy celebrating the beginning of the harvest season. Unlike the Christian festivals of Christmas and Hanukkah, Diwali is not a national holiday but rather a family gathering that take place before any other function of the year. It is particularly important to Hindus because the onset of winter makes it difficult to harvest rice.

On the other hand in Pakistan, the biggest religious festival is Eid-ul-Fitr, which falls on the end of Ramadan and is celebrated with much gusto by most people all over the country. The major highlight of this festival is the shopping for new clothes as well as new Eid clothes that will be worn during the festive period. Eid garments include new sets of clothes for men, women, kids and adults as well as jewelry, bedding and other articles of clothing that mark the festival. A simple citation needed for celebrations associated with Eid-ul-Fitr is, “Eid is a festival which is celebrated with joy and happiness; a festival which is celebrated with glory and splendor”.

Chinese Harvest festivals fall on the third and fourth weekends of the lunar calendar, on the day of the full moon of each month. These two weeks are extremely busy days and markets and bazaars are packed to the brim. Sweaters and dresses, along with perfumes, spices and cookery items are seen everywhere. The New Year celebration is marked by colorful processions, fireworks, masked dancers and firecrackers, traditional Chinese food, cakes and dim sum. A simple citation needed for celebrations associated with New Year’s Day is “let the New Year begins in earnest”.

In the western world, Chinese harvest festivals do not fall on precisely on the same date every year; they vary in length between seven and ten days. However, despite of such variances, the general customs and festivals associated with both Chinese New Year Eve remain common. Similarly, for European festivals, the main focus is on the Big Church or ‘Easter’ where wine is drunk, prayers are made and people celebrate with hearty feasts. Chinese new year celebrations and Chinese harvest festivals are rich in meaning and traditional symbols, which tie closely to the Chinese history and culture, but also to the universal culture of Asia.