In 2003, Chinese people celebrated the great tradition of Spring Festival — China's biggest holiday — as they have for centuries but with differences brought on by the rapid changes in economic and social environment. Each year, when winter is at its end and spring around the corner, people throughout China enthusiastically celebrate this first traditional holiday of the year, Spring Festival. In the past, when Chinese people used the lunar calendar, Spring Festival was known as the "New Year." It falls on the first day of the first lunar month, the beginning of a new year. After the Revolution of 1911, China adopted the Gregorian calendar. To distinguish the lunar New Year from the New Year by the Gregorian calendar, the lunar New Year was called the Spring Festival (which generally falls between the last 10-day period of January and mid-February). The evening before the Spring Festival, the lunar New Year's Eve, is an important time for family reunions. The whole family gets together for a sumptuous dinner, followed by an evening of pleasant talk or games. Some families stay up all night, "seeing the year out." The next morning, people pay New Year calls on relatives and friends, wishing each other good luck. During the Spring Festival, people's houses are decorated with auspicious New Year pictures and couplets and various traditional recreational activities are enjoyed in many parts of China, notably lion dances, dragon lantern dances, land-boat rowing and stilt-walking. But the traditional family reunion is being effected by changing concepts, advanced communications and the quickened pace of life. Today many people send phone messages and e-mails rather than make the customary visits to the homes of relatives and friends. In urban areas, some young people feel singing karaoke and going out with friends are more interesting ways to celebrate the festival. Since the 1980s, the Spring Festival performance broadcast by China Central Television has become a focus for many Chinese people on the eve of the Spring Festival.
The Internet has brought changes to another traditional holiday, the traditional Chinese "tomb-sweeping" or Pure Brightness Day that falls around April 5th or 6th every year. This is an occasion for people to offer sacrifices to their ancestors. At this time of year, the weather has begun to turn warm, and the earth is once again covered with green. People like to take walks, fly kites and appreciate the beauty of spring. But people are also increasingly going on-line on this day. When Chinese mathematician Su Buqing died in 2003, a memorial website was established for people to pay their respects. As many as 20,000 online memorials have been created on the website by ordinary people in memory of relatives and friends, with visitors reaching 800,000 per day and up to one million on special occasions such as Pure Brightness Day.
Although styles may change, holidays in China are occasions for family reunions and traveling. Starting in October 1999, China's three official holidays became "Golden Weeks" with seven days vacation made possible by working four extra days before the commencement of the holiday or after. Legal holidays in China are New Year (January 1), a national one-day holiday; Spring Festival (New Year by the lunar calendar), a national three-day holiday; International Working Women's Day (March 8); Tree Planting Day (March 12); International Labor Day (May 1), a national three-day holiday; Chinese Youth Festival (May 4); International Children's Day (June 1); Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) (August 1); Teacher's Day (September 10); and National Day (October 1), a national three-day holiday.
Besides Spring Festival and Pure Brightness Day, major traditional festivals in China include:
The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the night of the first full moon after the Spring Festival. Traditionally, people eat sweet dumplings and admire lanterns during this festival. Sweet dumplings, round balls of glutinous rice flour with sugar filling, symbolize reunion. The tradition of admiring the lanterns emerged in the 1st century and is still popular across the country. In the night of the festival, lantern shows are held in many cities which display many colorful lanterns in different styles; in the rural areas, people go in for entertainment activities such as firing fireworks, stilt-walking, dragon lantern dances, Yangge dances and swings.
Dragon Boat Festival
The fifth day of the fifth lunar month is the Dragon Boat Festival. It is generally believed that this festival originated to honor the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (c. 340-278 B.C.), who lived in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period. In despair at not being able to halt the decline of the state, he drowned himself in the Miluo River in modern Hunan Province on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month after the capital of Chu fell to the State of Qin. Legend has it that after Qu Yuan's death people living on the banks of the river went out in their boats to try to find the corpse. Every year thereafter, on this day people would row their boats out onto local rivers, throwing sections of bamboo filled with rice into the water as an offering to him. Today, the memory of Qu Yuan lives on, zongzi (pyramid-shaped dumplings made by wrapping glutinous rice in bamboo leaves) remains the traditional food and dragon-boat races are held.
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which comes right in the middle of autumn, hence its name. In ancient times, people would offer elaborate cakes as sacrifices to the Moon Goddess on this day. After the ceremony, the family would enjoy sitting together to eat the pastries known as "moon cakes." The festival came to symbolize family reunion, as did the "moon cakes," and the custom has been passed down to today.
The Double-Ninth Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. Since the number nine represents luck in China, this date with two nines has been considered a lucky day since ancient times. Traditionally, people climb mountains, eat cakes made of glutinous rice, drink wine and admire chrysanthemums. Starting in the late 1980s, the festival has become an occasion to show respect for the elderly. Every year on this day, various activities are held in honor of senior citizens throughout the country.