Asia, Culture, Destinations, Travel Tips

Chinese Festivals and Superstitions

December 7, 2014 • By

The Chinese live to celebrate their holidays.   I wanted to share the biggest festivals and some of the superstitions that I heard during my trip.  Many I found are embedded in Chinese life today.


Chinese New Year or Spring Festival – 2015 is the Year of the Horse.

It is the biggest and most important festival for the Chinese people. It originated during the Shang Dynasty and celebrates family and that spring is on the horizon. Think color, flowers and family. Each year takes on a different personality and there are 12: snake, dragon, horse, goat, ox, rooster, mouse, rabbit, monkey, dog, tiger, pig

The Lantern Festival – Celebrated at the end of Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)

Dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) and celebrated during the Tan Dynasty (618 -907 AD) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) people hang lanterns outside their home on the night of the festival. Light is a sign of hope.

Dragon Boat Festival – typically celebrated in June (the 5th day of the 5th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar

The festival celebrates the poet Qu Yuan (340 BC-278 BC) and serves as a time for people to dispel diseases. The legend goes that Qu Yuan drowned himself rather than see his country conquered by another state and local people and fisherman sailed their boats down the river throwing food and eggs into the river to attract fish and other animals from eating Qu Yuan’s body.   Dragon boat racing and eating zongzi are a part of this festival.

Qingming Festival – Pure Brightness or Tomb-Sweeping Day April 4 or 5

It commemorates a loyal man living in the Spring or Autumn Period (770 BC -476 BC) named Jie Zitui. This story goes that Jie Zitui cut a piece of meat from his leg to save his hungry lord. The lord came back but forgot Jie Zitui and then felt ashamed and tried to reward him. He then burned Jie and his mother in an attempt to find him. To commemorate Jie, the lord ordered the “Cold Food” Festival, the day only cold food could be eaten. When this lord went the following year to pay homage to Jie, wild willows had grown so the lord said the second day should be Qingming. Today, the two festivals are combined. It’s an important time for plowing and for paying respect for the dead and for “spring” cleaning. One of my guides said his family adds fresh soil and plants flowers at his grandparent’s tombs and they take paper things to the tomb like paper iPhones, paper airplanes paper gold, paper Buddha as offerings.

Mid Autumn Day August 15 of lunar calendar (15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar)

The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second biggest holiday after the Chinese New Year. It is also known as Moon Festival as the moon is usually at it’s fullest this time of year. In ancient times, the Chinese equated the moon with the change of seasons. To express their gratitude to the moon and celebrate the harvest, they offered a sacrifice to the moon. This practice originated during the Zhou Dynasty (1046 -256 BC). Families typically get together to sacrifice the moon and they eat moon cakes. Some regions also celebrate with dragon or lion dances.

National Day – October 1

The celebration of the People’s Republic of China. The PRC was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square. It is celebrated throughout China, Hong Kong and Macau with fireworks and concerts.

Favorite Superstitions

  • Feng Shui – System of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement “wind” and “water” – The Chinese design their homes, restaurants and office buildings based on this principle. Everything must be symmetrical and face south
  • Do not stick the chopsticks in your rice straight up in the middle of the bowl. EVER! Chopsticks standing straight represents death. At a Chinese wake, rice is offered to the corpse and to the gods. The chopsticks will be placed straight up in a bowl of rice representing a tombstone.
  • In Hainan Province, when eating a whole fish you better not turn it over to eat the meat on the other side.
  • On the first day of New Year, the house should NOT be cleaned. Doing so would be removing the happiness from the home. People also must open the windows to allow the old year to exit.
  • Red is good luck. People should wear red for the New Year, weddings etc.
  • The number 8 is good luck.
  • Men should not have a mustache since it brings bad luck (I didn’t see any!)
  • People should not cut their nails at night because it will bring on financial problems