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New Year's Day

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New Year's Day, first day of the year, January 1 in the Gregorian calendar.

In the Middle Ages most European countries used the Julian calendar and observed New Year's Day on March 25, called Annunciation Day and celebrated as the occasion on which it was revealed to Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God. With the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, Roman Catholic countries began to celebrate New Year's Day on January 1. Scotland accepted the Gregorian calendar in 1600; Germany, Denmark, and Sweden about 1700; and England in 1752. Traditionally the day has been observed as a religious feast, but in modern times the arrival of the New Year has also become an occasion for spirited celebration and the making of personal resolutions. The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah, or the Feast of Trumpets, and is prescribed by the Old Testament as a holy Sabbath. It is celebrated (generally in September) on the first and second days of Tishri. The Chinese celebrate New Year's Day sometime between January 10 and February 19 of the Gregorian calendar. It is their most important holiday.

Edit by: Dorothy

Moon Festival

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The Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival, on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, observes the biggest and brightest full moon of the year, the harvest moon.

One legend about the Moon Festival concerns expert architect Hou Yih, who built a palace of jade for the Goddess of the western heaven. In reward, she gave Hou Yih a pill with the elixir of immortality, warning him not to take it until he had fulfilled certain conditions. Hou Yih's ever-curious wife, Chang O, found the pill and promptly swallowed it. As punishment, she was banished to the moon where, according to tradition, her beauty is at its most radiant on the day of the Moon Festival.

The Festival is a public holiday marked by family reunions, moon gazing, and the eating of moon cakes-round pastries stuffed with red bean paste and an egg yolk, or fruit and preserves.

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The Dragon Boat Festival (Duan wu Jie)

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photo of The Dragon Boat Festival (Duan wu Jie)
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The Dragon Boat Festival, Duanwu or Duanyang Jie, falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. It was the day for a tribe living in ancient states of Wu and Yue (5,000 years ago in present-day Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces) to offer sacrifices to its totem, the dragon. To defend themselves against insects, drought, flood and other plagues, they created an imaginary dragon to which tey prayed for protection. On theis day sacrifices were made to the dragon and a dragon boat race was held.

The most accepted and authoritative explanation of the festival's arigin is that it commemorates Qu Yuan, a brilliant poet and a minister in charge of the Three Aristocratic Families of the State of Chu During the Warring States Perod (475-221 B.C.)

Qu Yuan was born around 340 B.C. At the age of 36 he was already holding a very importantposition in the court. As an ardent patriot and statesman, he proposed to his sovereign policies regarding diplomatic and domestic affairs. Unfortunately, his progressive views were opposed by corrupt forces, represented by Jin Shang, the king's aide, and Zhenxiu, the Queen consort. Both of them heaped calumnies on Qu yuan and in the end the king decided to banish him.

Living long years in exile, Qu Yuan wrote many beautiful odes expressing his sorrow and concern for his country and people. About 278 B.C. the troops of the State of Qin stormed the capital of Chu and the downfall of the corrupt court was expected at any moment. Despairing of saving his country and fulfilling his political ideals, te 62 years-old poet, holding a stone in his arms, drowned himself in the Miluo River near today's Changsha in Hunnan Province.

Qu Yuan's quest for a way to make his country powerful and prosperous, and his dedication to his ideals, had own the respect of the people. When news of his death came, they rushed from all quarters, rowing boats on the river in an attempt to find his body. This is supposed to be the beginning of the custom of rowing dragon boat on this day. The custom spread until today, at the time every year, dragon boat races take place on rivers and lakes all over the land.

An old writing says, "Qu Yuan threw himself in the Miluo River on May 5 by the lunar calendar and the people of Chu mourned him. Every year at this time they threw bamboo tubes filled with rice into the river as an offering to him". During the reign of the Han Emperor Guangwu (A.D. 25-56), a man by the name of Ou Hui, from Changsha, happened to see a man near the river who said that he was Minister in charge of the Three Aristocratic Families - Qu Yuan's old post. "It is all very well for you to offer me sacrifices," this mansaid to Ou Hui, "but most of them are stolen and devoured by the dragon in the river. In the future, then, please wrap them in chinaberry, leaves and tie them up with colored threads. The dragon is afraid of these two things and thus will never touch them. " The people did as they were told, and this is how zhongzi- the delicious pyramid-shaed dumpling made of glutious rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves are made for the festival today.

There is a great variety of zhongzi made with different stuffing and different flavours. Sountherners make them with pork, ham, diced chicken, sweetened bean paste. Northerners like them make with glutinous rice and millet, dates, sweetened bean paste and candied fruit.

Another interesting custom observed during the Dragon Boat Festival even today is hanging calamus and Chinese mugwort on the door and drinking wine - a practice that probably arose as a protection against the epidemic diseases that were liable to attack in May so close to the summer heat. Later the custom became connected with Qu Yuan, for he hated treacherous court officials as poisonous snakes and demons. Calamus and Chinese mugwort then were kept to protect Qu Yuan's soul against these evil creatures.

Dragon-boat races have a long history in south China. It is also said to commemorate Qu Yuan.

Edit by: Vincent

The Lantern Festival

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The 15th day of the 1st lunar month, another important traditional festival, follows the Spring Festival. Books written in ancient China refer to it as Shangyuan Jie (the 15th day of the 1st lunar month). It is called Yuan Xiao jie because xiao means "evening" and the whole phrase referes to the Lantern Festival, as it's called today.

Yuan Xiao Jie dates back to the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Sima Qian (c. 145 or 135-B.C), author of Records of the Historian, considered it an important festival when he advised Emperor Wudi to revised the calendar and adopt the Tiachu calendar (used from 104 B.C. to A.D. 85)

On the night o Yuan Xiao Jie there is an exhibition of lanterns that attracts many spectators. This custom at first had something to do with night curfew in ancient china. Since the Zhou Dynasty (11th century-256 B.C.), the common people had been to go outdoors or get together at nights. The curfew was not relaxed until the Han dynasty, when the rite of sacrifice to the Heavenly King took place throughout the night. This was probably the first time the curfew was lifted and the at people were allowed to come out to watch the lanterns.

It is a 1300-year-long tradition that for the Lantern Festival every family eat Yuanxiao(here it means a ball-like glutinous rice flour dough stuffed with sweet things). It is also known as fuyanzi (floating ball) because when boiled they float on the surface of the soup ( tangyuan) (balls in soup) or fengou (dough fruit). People eat it as a symbol of family reunion and a sweet life. Gradually people have come to call it just yuanxiao for short. At any rate, it is so tasty that everyone likes it.

The ingredients of the stuffing are white sugar, brown sugar, color dressings, rose, bean paste, sesame, ashed walnuts, etc. The yuanxiao are prepared by boiling, steaming or frying. Today, before the festival, the shops in all the cities, towns and villages in China make plenty of yuanxiao for the celebrator.

Edit by: Vincent

Clear and Bright Festival (Qingming Jie)

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Qingming is one of the twenty-four solar terms that the ancient Chinese gave to the twenty-four divisions of their year. Coming fifteen days later than the Spring Equinox, it falls around April. 5. this is the time people go out for the warm weather, clear bright sky and gentle breeze. Ti is a good time for plowing and sowing, too. Farmers have proverbs for this time of the year:"Melons and beans are sown around Qingming" and "Tree are planted no later than Qingming".

The Clear and Bright Festival originated in the spring and Autunm Period (770-476 B.C.). Historical books unearthed from tombs of the Warring States Perod( 475-221) B. C.) contain the earliest record of the festival. It was meant, it is said, to com-memorate Jie Zitui, a minister of Chong Er, son of Duke Xian of the State of Jin, one of the warring states. When chong Er was forced to live in exile, and he wished to eat some meat but none was available, Jie Zitui stealthily cut some flesh off his own arm and cooed it for him. Later Chong Er became the ruler and he gave orders to reward his followers. Not interested in wealth or position, Jie Zitui went with his mother to Mianshan Mountain in today's Shanxi Province and lived a secluded life there. It was the time of the year when Qingming is celebrated now. Chong Er, wanting to reward Jie Zitui with an important position, tried to find him in the great mountain but couldn't. So he set the mountain on fire, figuring that Jie Zitui would run out to save his life. Instead, Jie Zitui and his mother were burned to death, with their arms clinging to a scorched willow tree. Such a spirit, that would rather die than come out to enter officialdom, was highly praised. Later, on the day of his death every year, people did no make a fire in their kitchens but just ate prepared cold food. Gradually it became a custom. Thus today Qingming is also known as the "festival of eating things cold" and "no fire day".

Staring in the Qin (221-207 B.C.) and Han dynasties, it has also become the day when people go to sweep clean the graves of their ancestors and mourn the dead.

Also, in the Tangy Dynasty on this day, city inhabitants began going for an outing in the countryside, an affair know as Taqing, or treading on the green. The custom was most popular in the Song and Ming dynasties. The most frequented place was a riverside. The famous long horizontal scroll painting riverside Scenes at Qingming by Zhang zeduan in the song dynasty best depicts the busy, booming scene during the festival

Another old custom is "inserting willow twigs". Back from an outing, people break off some willow branches and carry them home to put into the house wall under the eaves, an act supposed to keep insects away. Insects away. People in Guangdong Province put willow twigs at the bottom of dry wells to keep evil spirits away. Women in Suzhou and Huangzhou make garlands of willow tree twigs and wear them on their heads as a wish for their youth to stay forever. This gae rise to a saying: "Wearing no willow rings on the day of Qingming, a young woman will son be growing gray."

During this festival there are also sports such as playing on swings, flying kites, a kind of anciet Chinese football, and cockfighting.

At nowadays, one of the most important parts of Chinese culture is the veneration and honoring of the dead. To honor your dead you must provide a long line of family, hence the importance of the family in Chinese culture. Among the offerings, "spirit money" (paper money) is often burnt, and it is said that during Qingming some true devotees actually scrub the bones of their loved ones.

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