China has a number of festivals and holidays throughout the year. Many of which are very cultural and celebrated by nearly all Chinese families. As an expat working in China you'll come across the following holidays.
Yuandan is the beginning of the New Year in the new calendar of China. In Chinese, “yuan” means first and “dan” means the moment of sunrise. Yuandan is the first day of the New Year. Typically China has three days off during Yuandan.
Spring Festival is the New Year in the lunar calendar of China. It is known that spring festival is the most important holiday in China. People celebrate spring festival by engaging in many activities, including igniting fireworks and firecrackers, offering lucky money to each other (the custom of giving lucky money varies in different places), eating large meals (normally there are certain dishes containing fortunate meaning) and visiting relatives (often have to bring gifts like fruits, cakes or dried food). Note that usually there are huge traffic problems before and on the first day of Spring Festival as well as the final day as a result of people rushing home. China has seven days off during Spring Festival.
Qingming Festival, which is the 4th solar cycle of the Chinese 24 solar cycles, is a three-day holiday in China. The customs vary in different places in China. Typically people sweep tombs in these days by cleaning the tombs, presenting offerings such as roasted piglet, fruits and Chinese cakes (offerings differ in different places and offerings here are from Guangdong), igniting firecrackers and burning the sacrificial papered offerings. Nowadays, people in cities simplify the ritual and only present flowers. Other families choose to have fun on an outing such as Flying kites, admiring flowers, and eating special foods for the celebration.
May Day or Labor Day is an international holiday in most countries on the first day of May. In the United States or other countries, it is a holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. Labor Day is to celebrate the labor movement in the world and to acknowledge social and economical achievements of workers. Since it is not a traditional Chinese festival, people tend to treat it as a minor vacation in which they will go shopping, take small trips around nearby cities and probably fine dining in some special restaurant.
Dragon Boat Festival, which is known as Duanwu Festival, is celebrated to dispel disease, evil and also to memorialize the famous poet Qunyuan, who committed suicide by diving in the river. In reality, the story of Qunyuan is more known in the masses and the stress of cleaning and sanitation on this day has been slowly forgotten. The most famous activities in this festival are eating zongzi and paddling dragon boats. Zongzi is glutinous rice wrapped to form a triangular prism shape by bamboo and reed leaves. Based on different tastes, zongzi can come with a variety of different fillings. In addition the dragon boat race is extremely popular among villages, especially in South China. Recently there has been a high increase in dragon boat races, held by the dragon boat association, in the cities and even foreigners are now welcomed to join in this grand gathering. There is usually a three-day holiday for this festival.
Mid-autumn Festival is a traditional festival, which is also named Chinese Moon Festival, occurring on August 15 in the Chinese lunar calendar. It is a time for gathering, which means people away from home go back and stay together with their family. Admiring the moon is a must when celebrating this special day. Chinese think that the moon in this time is the fullest and prettiest in the whole year, which is commonly mentioned in many famous Chinese poems and myths. While enjoying the glorious full moon, many Chinese love to eat moon cakes as a custom to moon worship. The round shape of moon cakes symbolizes completeness and unity so they are often given as a gift to others. In some parts of China, people will hang lanterns as festival decorations in their home and let children have fun with lanterns.
National day of China, which is held on October 1, is to celebrate the founding of People’s Republic of China. There are huge celebrations throughout the nation, including large fireworks displays and concerts. In Tiananmen Square, there is a special flag-raising ceremony held on National day and which attracts a huge audience every year. Most of the time, due to being close to the Mid-autumn Festival the government will combine them together and make this time a longer vacation, which is also known as “golden week” and lasts up to eight days. Typically there are 5 days off for National Day.