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January 21, 2012

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Celebrating festivals around the Chinese lunar calendar

CHINESE festivals are based on the Chinese lunar Calendar beginning Monday with the Spring Festival celebrating the lunar new year and running around the lunar dial through December.

Spring Festival is the most important celebration of the year and the Lantern Festival, Qingming Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival are also of great significance.

Family reunion, worshipping ancestors, and eating special, symbolic foods are central to many festivals, which also mark planting and harvest seasons.

This is the calendar of major Chinese festivals for 2012:

Spring Festival (January 23-February 6)

Also called the Chinese New Year, it begins on Monday, January 23, first day of the lunar new year, and ends 15 days later on February 6, the Lantern Festival.

The eve, called chuxi (eve of the passing year), is essential for annual family reunion dinners and fireworks to celebrate and scare away evil.

Eating jiaozi (dumplings), pasting up chunlian (red New Year scrolls bearing good luck couplets) and visiting and greeting relatives are traditions during the 15 days. Children receive gift money from their elders.

Lantern Festival (February 6)

Also known as Shangyuan Festival, it marks the end of the 15-day lunar New Year celebration. This year it falls on February 6.

Thousands of colorful lanterns are hung on streets for lantern appreciation. Children guess riddles and they and their families carry small lanterns. Rabbit-shaped lanterns are especially popular with children.

Tangyuan or yuanxiao, glutinous rice balls, is the traditional snack eaten on this day, expressing wishes for happy family reunions.

Qingming Festival (April 4)

Also known as Pure Brightness Festival, it coincides with the solar term of the same name. This year it falls on April 4.

Traditionally it is a day when people visit the graves of family members and ancestors, sweep the tombs, offer sacrificial food and burn joss sticks. Some people place fresh earth and fresh branches at the tomb, symbolizing new branches of the family. Otherwise Chinese people avoid graves and any mention of death, which is considered bad luck. After visiting graves people are told to go home quickly and in groups so they are not waylaid by ghosts.

It's also an early springtime festival and people eat green-colored glutinous rice sweets known as qingtuan.

Dragon Boat Festival (June 23)

Also known as Duanwu Festival (Double Fifth), it falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This year it's on June 23.

It dates back to the worship of dragons as bringers of rain for crops but also marks the much later suicide death by drowning of a patriotic poet and statesman Qu Yuan in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Villagers tried to rescue him in boats (today's dragon boats) and threw rice to the fish so they would not eat his body.

On this day dragon boat races are held and people eat triangular zongzi or glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo or other leaves.

The holiday marks the start of warm weather and other customs relate to dispelling pests and evil. People hang insect repellent herbs at their thresholds and wear herb sachets.

Qixi Festival (August 23)

Known as the Night of Sevens (seventh day of the seventh lunar month), the Magpie Festival and Chinese Valentine's Day, this year it falls on August 23.

It's a day for lovers and is based on a legend of separated lovers who meet once a year on a bridge created by magpies with their wings.

Girls traditionally throw a sewing needle into a bowl of water as a test of sewing skills. If the needle floats, it's a good sign of her skills and means she will win a good husband.

Zhongyuan Festival (August 31)

Also known as the Chinese Ghost Festival or Hungry Ghost Festival, it falls on August 31 this year, the 15th of the seventh lunar month.

It's the day when the gate of the underworld opens and deceased ancestors and ghosts return to the world of the living. They are honored with ritual food offerings, incense and burning paper items of things they need in the next world - these days that can mean luxury cars and mansions.

Mid-Autumn Festival (September 30)

Also known as the Moon Festival and Mooncake Festival, it falls on September 30 this year, the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.

One of the most important festivals, it was an ancient harvest festival. Today it focuses on family reunion, eating mooncakes and appreciating the full moon.

People tell the story of Chang'e, a lady who took a magic pill and ended up living alone on the moon with her rabbit friend. Lighting lanterns, especially in rabbit shapes, is popular.

Chongyang Festival (October 23)

Also called Seniors' Day and the Double Ninth, it falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. This year it falls on October 23.

People are encouraged to climb to a high place to improve their prospects, to drink chrysanthemum tea and eat chrysanthemum cakes and show respect to the elderly. People also may wear zhuyu, or cornel.


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