Celebrating traditional Chinese festivals with the locals
As Chinese New Year takes place this week and our colleagues in China welcome in the year of the bunny, we’re reminded of the memorable experiences we’ve had on our China trips participating in local festivals. And since our local guides are so well-connected, they can change plans in an instant so that our guests are able to participate in these once in a lifetime opportunities.
In 2011, two of our four China trips overlap with major festivals: the Dragon Boat Festival in June and the Mid-Autumn Festival in September.
The Dragon Boat Festival begins June 5 and so coincides with Classic Journeys’ June 3 China adventure tour departure. Traditionally, a dragon boat is a long and narrow canoe-style boat that’s now used in the team paddling sport of dragon boat racing. While competition has taken place annually for more than 2,000 years as part of folk ritual, it emerged in modern times as an international sport in Hong Kong in 1976. For competitive events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails.
Dragon boat races are traditionally held as part of the annual Duanwu Festival observance in China. 19th-century European observers of the racing ritual, not understanding the significance of Duanwu, referred to the spectacle as a “dragon boat festival”. This is the term that has become known in the West.
Dragon boat festival racing, like Duanwu, is observed and celebrated in many areas of East Asia with significant populations of ethnic Chinese, including in Singapore, Malaysia, and greater China. The date is commonly referred to as the “double fifth”, since Duanwu is reckoned as the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and often falls on the Gregorian calendar month of June. This is because Duanwu is calculated annually in accordance with the traditional calendar system of China, which is a combination of solar and lunar cycles, unlike the Gregorian calendar system.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival and the Zhongqiu Festival, is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese people. In 2011 it begins on September 12 and so provides guests on Classic Journeys’ September 11 China adventure tour an opportunity to participate in a celebration that dates back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China’s Shang Dynasty.
First called Zhongqiu Jie (literally “Mid-Autumn Festival”) in the Zhou Dynasty; in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, the festival is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival date parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, and there are many local varieties.
Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date. Traditionally, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon and eat moon cakes and pomelos under the moon together. Along with the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs that include putting pomelo rinds on one’s head, carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns, burning incense in reverence to deities, planting Mid-Autumn trees, collecting dandelion leaves and distributing them evenly among family members, and fire dragon dances.
With 68 regions in 31 countries on 5 continents, Classic Journeys is expert at immersing our guests into the history, culture and festivals of the people and places we visit. If you’d like more information on our China adventure tours, or any of our cultural walking tours, culinary tours or family vacations, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone one of our exceptional Guest Service Coordinators at 800-200-3887.