Whether you realize it or not, holidays make up a significant portion of a country's culture--they influence media, cuisine, and manufacturing. If you live in the US, you're probably used to associating October with spooky costumes and December with Santa and gifts. Well, China has their own major holidays to celebrate too, and if you're planning a move to China, it's important to understand what they celebrate in China. Not only will this help you be able to experience the culture on a deeper level because you understand the meaning behind the holidays, but as an expat in China, you can also plan your time of work accordingly.
Sound familiar? In China, New Years Day is a National Holiday, and most workers get one day off (if you're really lucky, you might get two, but that's uncommon). The purpose of New Years is to celebrate the start of a new year--according to the Gregorian calendar.
During their day off, most Chinese residents take a little time to relax--they might go shopping with friends, enjoy nature in the park or just spend some quality downtime at home. Traffic-wise, traveling through China and surrounding Asian countries shouldn't be too much of a problem: while you should expect to see more heightened traffic--especially near big cities--you'll still be able to get around fairly well.
Often known as the most important National Holiday, the Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) is a big deal to Chinese residents. In fact, it's been celebrated for over 4,000 years.
Depending on your job, you could get as little as three days off for this holiday, but many workers actually get one or two weeks off. Students are given two weeks off school. The reason for this has a lot to do with travel: during this time, many residents travel back to their hometowns to see family and pay respect to their ancestors. The holiday is typically celebrated for sixteen days.
If possible, you want to avoid traveling nationally during the holiday. With so many residents on the move, many refer to this time as the "Great Migration". (Some foreigners opt to travel internationally before all the craziness starts.)
If you're in the country during the New Year, there's no way you're going to miss the celebrations and Spring Festival holiday traditions in China. Each year, a different Chinese animal is honored (according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar). You'll probably see tons of firecrackers--all throughout the celebration, firecrackers light up the sky to keep away the frightening monster, Nian.
Traditions vary across the country. In the North, people eat dumplings on Chinese New Year's Eve, and in the South, citizens enjoy sticky rice and spring rolls. Many residents celebrate by eating a large feast with family, getting new clothes and giving each other red envelopes.
Having respect for your ancestors is a crucial part of Chinese culture. During the Qingming Festival--or Tomb Sweeping Day--many families take the time to travel back home to visit their deceased ancestors.
Oftentimes, while paying their respects, residents will sweep the tomb and have a picnic with family if the weather is pleasant. Another tradition includes burning paper--citizens write messages on paper and let them burn. Not only is this a sign of respect, but it's believed that the smoke rises into the heavens and the messages are passed on to the ancestors.
Generally, workers will receive one or two days off for this National Holiday. While you probably should book your travel plans earlier than usual during this time, there shouldn't be that much traffic.
May Day is China's Labor Day. For one day, offices are closed and the workers inside them get a little time to relax. Many residents choose to spend this day at shopping malls and centers--May Day is actually a pretty significant holiday when it comes to retail shopping.
Don't be surprised if you see many families having a picnic or BBQ--the time of year usually means the weather is nice. Don't worry about traveling either--increased traffic shouldn't be a concern.
Taking place on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Lunar calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival is an important National Holiday for Chinese citizens. Traditions include eating zongzi--a sticky rice that is wrapped in leaves--and having villages compete against each other in dragon boat races.
These races typically happen in local waters. While dragon boat racing has been going on for over 2,500 years, this special holiday also serves as a remembrance for to the famous Chinese scholar, Qu Yuan.
Some workers may get as much as three days off for this festival. Witnessing a dragon boat race is a unique cultural experience, and if you're planning to do so, make sure you find out where the race is happening and arrive earlier (you should expect a big crowd).
Also known as the Lantern Festival or Moon Festival, Mid-Autumn Day is a big deal to Chinese residents. Workers can expect to get one to three days off for this National Holiday.
Centuries ago, Chinese emperors believed the sun and moon controlled the universe. The festival is suspected to have originated in the Shang Dynasty, and the original purpose was to bring good luck and prosperity by worshiping the moon. To do so, families gathered around the table and ate a hearty meal together.
Today, people spend time with their families during the Festival and participate in traditions. This includes eating moon-cakes, making lanterns, and gift-giving. Mid-Autumn Day is really all about reconnecting with family through food and quality time.
If you're planning to travel, it's a good idea to make plans in advance. Many people head home to see their families, and you should expect a lot of increased traffic.
Just like the US celebrates July 4th, China also has their own Independence day--October 1st. On October 1st, 1949, the PRC was officially founded with a ceremony as the first communist flag was raised.
While Independence Day is only on October 1st, this National Holiday has been considered part of the "golden week"--which takes place from October 1-7. Most workers will get a full week off from their employers.
Many Chinese residents take this time to travel and see some of the festivities. Traditions include a flag-raising ceremony, firework shows and lots of shopping. Because so many citizens are traveling during this week, you should be careful about making plans. Traffic and transportation will be booked up, and Chinese hot spots are going to be crowded.
If you do have plans, it might be smart to travel by plane rather than the train (since the trains will be packed to the brim). And, as always, make arrangements early--the longer you wait, the less chance you have of getting a spot.
National Holidays in China are full of tradition, quality time with loved ones and delicious food. If you happen to be in China during one, you're sure to be in for a unique experience. But it's most helpful if you have a bit of understanding behind the holiday -- because in China, everything has a deeper meaning.
This will allow you to really feel like you are participating in the culture and experiencing on the holiday on a deeper level than most tourists. And this is what many expats in China are looking for.