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The Chinese government officially recognizes several major national holidays (listed below).  Holidays can be classified into two main groups: those commemorating political or social achievements, and those that correspond to traditional festivals per the ancient Chinese lunar calendar. Regional, provincial and city-specific festivals also exist in abundance.  See our city-by-city listings for details on lesser-known celebrations.

Recent Changes to China's Holiday Schedule
In 1999, China introduced three annual week-long holidays ( 'Golden Weeks' ) to reinvigorate the economy by encouraging travel.   The Golden Week Holidays were originally May Day, National Day (October 1st) and Spring Festival, a lunar holiday falling in January or February every year.  However, the mass holidays created logistical difficulties, and the government has recently made adjustments.  The biggest change is that the May Day holiday has now been shortened to one day.  New one-day holidays have been created for Tomb-Sweeping Day, the Dragon-Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.  In addition, the Spring Festival holiday has now been brought forward by a day to start from the eve of the Lunar New Year instead of the first day of the festival.

It is important to note that the Spring Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival are all lunar holidays and their dates will vary from year to year.  All other holidays are fixed dates in the calendar.

Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) 
Spring Festival (chūnjié) is the most important and most universally celebrated holiday on the Chinese calendar.  It marks the first day of the lunar year, with celebrations lasting for fifteen days.  The festival begins in January or February, the exact dates changing annually with the cycles of the moon.

Spring Festival is a time for family reunion: people all over China, rich and poor, will travel thousands of miles to reach their home town in time for the celebrations, posing an annual transport logistics challenge that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.

Preparations for the festivities begin about a month before the holiday season officially starts.  Most Chinese families engage in a meticulous spring cleaning, sweeping out dark corners, dusting lofty shelves and scrubbing rooftops.  Traditionally, this was to ensure that no scraps of bad luck remained and that malicious demons had no place to hide. 

Those visiting China before or during Spring Festival may also notice two red strips of paper pasted at the entrance of many homes and businesses.  The paper bears several Chinese characters, arranged as poetic couplets (duì lián), which convey messages of well-wishing, fortune and longevity.  You may also notice signs depicting the Chinese character 福  (), which means ''prosperity'' or ''good fortune'', stuck on doorways and windows.  Many times the character is deliberately hung upside-down.  The Chinese word for ''upside-down'' is pronounced similarly to the word ''arrive'', and hanging ''prosperity'' upside down creates the play on words ''prosperity has arrived''.

There are many festival ceremonies that have died out in big cities but are still followed in country areas. For example, several weeks before the celebrations begin in earnest, families in villages in the south of China will place a bowl of honey and other sweet treats in the kitchen underneath a paper representation of the Kitchen God.  The Kitchen God, a notorious tattle-tale, is said to ascend to heaven once a year and whisper into the ear of the Jade Emperor (Lord of Heaven), reporting all the gossip and goings-on of each Chinese family.  The bowl of honey and the sticky candies are rumored to coat the Kitchen God's tongue, ensuring he can say only nice, sweet things about that household.  On New Year's Eve, the paper cutout of the Kitchen God is burned, speeding his way to heaven. 

On New Year's Eve and Day, families feast on traditional symbolic foods, the most well known among these being jiǎozi, or dumplings, which historically represent coming together, ushering out the old and welcoming in the new.  As the Chinese have been celebrating the lunar New Year for many centuries, it is not surprising that distinct traditions and countless unique New Year's dishes have developed in various regions throughout the country.  Southern Chinese typically enjoy noodles, which symbolize longevity.  Others munch on spring rolls, which symbolize a bountiful harvest. 
Lighting firecrackers is another tradition that goes on throughout the 15-day festival period.  The loud, resounding booms were once said to scare evil spirits away. 

On New Year's Day, married couples give children and the unmarried red envelopes containing money.  This is especially exciting for children, who collect much of their spending money for the year during this time.  Families then leave their houses, going door to door to visit and pay respects to their neighbors, friends and family members.  It is a time for paying debts, forgetting grudges, and resolving differences. 

On the fifteenth day of the lunar year, the holiday comes to a rollicking close with the celebration of the Lantern Festival, where lights are lifted aloft on long poles, acrobats perform lion dances, and the crackle of firecrackers reaches an earsplitting crescendo.

Tomb Sweeping Day (Festival of Pure Brightness)
Tomb-Sweeping Day (qīngmíngjié) is celebrated in the first week of April.  Traditionally, Tomb Sweeping Day was a celebration of love and spring bounty - revelers flew kites, colored eggs with dye, and sang.  However, over the course of many centuries, Tomb Sweeping Day became a time to honor one's ancestors.

Today, families take trips to cemeteries and burial grounds to tend to the graves of the dead, planting flowers, pulling weeds and sweeping tombs.  The living burn piles of paper money near the gravesites so that their ancestors will have money to spend in the afterlife. 

Labor Day
The Chinese government has adopted International Labor Day, May 1st, (láodòngjié) as a national holiday.  Workers are typically given an additional three days off to spend with their families.

Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival (duānwǔjié) commemorates the patriotism of poet Qu Yuan, who was an official in the court of Emperor Huai during the Warring States period (475-221 BC).  Intelligent and principled, Qu Yuan dedicated his life to fighting government corruption, which made him many powerful enemies.  His detractors managed to convince Emperor Huai that Qu himself was corrupt, and Qu was eventually exiled.  Even in exile, Qu was not to be deterred.  He spent his years writing, traveling and lecturing with the hope of someday returning to his emperor's service.  That, unfortunately, was not to be.  The emperor grew weaker, and was eventually overthrown.  Anguished, Qu Yuan threw himself into a river and drowned.

When the nearby townsfolk heard what happened to their beloved scholar, legend has it that they ran en masse to the riverbank, where women and children threw zòngzi – triangular stuffed rice dumplings – into the river to distract the fish while the men searched for his body.

Today, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.  Festivities include commemorating the search for Qu Yuan's body by holding dragon boat races and throwing zòngzi into rivers and lakes. 

Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival)
The Mid-Autumn Festival (zhōngqiūjié) is held on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, and is traditionally a harvest festival. Celebrations focus on feasting, and rejoicing over a bountiful crop.  Fruit is standard mid-autumn fare, and festival tables may be laden with pomegranates, pomelos, apples and melons. 

Moon cakes are famously associated with the festival.  These round pastries (something of an acquired taste for Westerners) are stamped with auspicious characters, and stuffed with such delights as lotus paste, red bean paste and sweet black sesame. 

National Day
National Day (guóqìngjié) is celebrated yearly on October 1st on the date of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.  Schools and workplaces are usually granted up to three additional days off during this period.

Foreign Holidays in China
Western holidays have no official status in China, but Christmas (shèngdànjié) is gaining popularity fast, driven both by genuine enthusiasm and commercial interest. The Chinese love the Christmas gift-giving tradition and find red Santa outfits irresistible, especially the svelte fur-trimmed version worn by waitresses and shop girls across the country from early December onwards. Most businesses and offices hang Christmas decorations, carols echo through shopping malls, and big stores cash in relentlessly on the trade, with no more thought to the traditional religious meaning of the holiday than most Westerners give it in modern times.

Valentine's Day (qíngrénjié), with its opportunities for sappy flirtation and gift giving, is a natural in China, and gets bigger by the year.

Neither Christmas nor Valentine's Day has any official status, but the Chinese government recognizes the January 1 New Year, and provides a one day holiday for the event, much to the relief of New Year's Eve revelers.
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