I remember once hearing someone say, “You work more than a Chinese person!” I now don’t think that person understood the reality of this sentence. The truth is, nobody really can until they’ve been living in China for a while!
China has four main Public Holidays and numerous annual festivals, the most important of which are Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Mid-Autumn Festival (National Day). People often refer to these festivals as “Golden weeks”, but for many interns who experience these holidays in China for the first time, the Chinese idea of a holiday is not what you’d expect! You might get seven days of in a row, great, but there is also a price to pay. The Saturday or Sunday before or after the Golden week become regular working days to make up for some of the valuable working hours lost to leisure time. No rest for the wicked, ay! This was definitely a shock to me when I first started my internship in Qingdao – “I have to come to work on a Sunday!?!”
Here’s an example of how the working week took shape in the past to accommodate Mid-Autumn Festival and China’s National day. Peculiar, huh?
During these two weeks Chinese people usually go back to their hometowns to visit their families or go travelling as a family. You’ll find the big cities packed to brimming point with happy families wielding cameras in on selfie sticks. It’s a lively atmosphere, but for the safety of your toes, I would advise you to avoid the main attractions and tourist spots on National holidays! You’re likely to find something like this:
CHINESE NEW YEAR
But not everything is negative and actually one of the main reasons I love China is that behind these holidays there is a strong sense of tradition, a history and many customs that will continue to be observed for years to come.
For example, the Chinese New Year Festival (or Spring Festival) in February has more than 4,000 years of history. The Chinese welcome the New Year by asking the Queen of the Sun to help with the next harvest.
The festival is said to have started with a mythical beast called the Nian. The evil Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put out food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that if the beast ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One day, a villager decided to get revenge on the Nian. A god visited him and told him to put red paper over the outside of his house and firecrackers too. The Nian it seems was afraid of the colour red. When the New Year was approaching, the villagers hung up red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors and lit up firecrackers to frighten the beast away. From then on, the Nian never troubled the village again.
That’s also the reason you’ll find all over China red paper decorations adorning every front door.
Around the same time as China’s National Day, the Mid-Autumn Festival arrives. This festival is closely related to the changes of the seasons and agricultural production. It’s a time to say “thank you” to the Moon Queen and celebrate the last days of September. The festival has more than 3000 years of history.
It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult. It was the hero Hou Yi, who, owing to his great strength, shot down nine of the ten suns. On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Among these people was an old friend called Peng Meng. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and they lived a happy life.
One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if taken, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god/goddess. Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E.
Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi giving the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard of the happy couples home and demanded Chang E to hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not defeat Peng Meng, she took the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, Cheng E flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest place to the earth in heaven.
On realizing what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grieved that he shouted Chang E’s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife had appeared in the Moon. He laid Chang E’s favourite food on an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her, but he had lost her forever.
After hearing that Chang E had become a goddess, the folk people also started offering sacrifices to Chang E, praying for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among folklore.
I like this story, but the best thing about the holiday are the moon cakes. Each one is a surprise because I never know what filling I’ll find inside!
Which each day I like China and its culture more and more – there’s always a nice story to listen to. If you also want to experience the real China – apply now.