Spring Festival Temple Fairs
The Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), which comes on the first day of Chinese lunar calendar, is the most important and distinctive Chinese festival (the 2015 Spring Festival falls on February 19). During that time, all families are busy with the thorough house-cleaning, making special purchases for the festival, pasting spring festival couplets, and making all sorts of food. The activities during the New Year are varied and full of distinctive local features. In Beijing, the most prominent feature of the New Year celebrations is the city’s wide variety of temple fairs, which reproduce the traditional customs of Beijing.
At temple fairs in Beijing, there are all sorts of folk toys that you may find attractive, such as masks, puppets, miniature carts, swords, spears, bamboo dragons, diabolos, lanterns with revolving figures, bristle figurines, sugar-coated figurines, and dough figurines, etc. These varied and ingeniously-made toys are often highly collectable handicrafts. Meanwhile, various snacks are sold at temple fairs. At the Altar of the Earth and the Longtan Lake Temple, representative snacks from all over the country can be found along the snack street.
Also, a lot of folk activities are held during the temple fairs, among which, shooting coins and touching the stone monkey in the White Cloud Temple are very special and fairly interesting. There are three monkeys depicted in relief sculptures around the temple, and it is believed to be lucky to find all three and touch them. After entering the gate of the temple, you can see a large arched stone bridge known as Wofeng Bridge. Beneath the bridge, there are coins and bells hanging on both sides. Many people throw coins to hit the bell as they believe that if they hit the bell with the coins, their wishes will come true.
The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Since it is the first full moon night in a lunar year, it indicates the return of spring and is considered auspicious by the Chinese. To celebrate the festival, Chinese people eat yuanxiao (sweet dumplings made of glutinous rice flour), solve riddles and set off fireworks. In some places, you can also watch performances such as dragon lantern dancing, lion dancing, land boat dancing, yangko dancing, and walking on stilts, etc.
During the Lantern Festival, the most important activity for old Beijingers is to watch lanterns. Lantern-watching activities are held in many parks in Beijing, and every lantern show amounts to a sea of lanterns. The traditional lanterns include the revolving lanterns, baby lanterns, and lanterns of rabbit, peacock, Monkey King, as well as the lanterns of cabbage, gourd, watermelon, hot-chilli, cat, dog, and lamb; all are vivid, colorful, ingenious, imaginative, and typical of Beijing.
Pure Brightness Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day or Qingming Festival)
The Pure Brightness Festival, also called Tomb-Sweeping Day or Qingming Festival, is another traditional Chinese festival, dating back to about the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). For thousands of years, it has been a day for the Chinese people to mourn for their deceased ancestors and loved ones.
When the Pure Brightness Festival comes (usually around April 4th – 6th each year), Beijing goes green. Besides sweeping the ancestral tombs, Beijingers have their own ways of observing the festival, such as going on spring outings, playing on the swings, flying kites, or playing Chinese polo.
Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival, falling on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, is to commemorate the ancient patriotic poet Qu Yuan. During the festival, Chinese people eat zongzi (sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves), hold dragon boat races, hang calamus, mugwort and wormwood leaves on doorframes to expel the evil spirit and prevent diseases, and burn rhizoma atractyloids and radis angelicae to drive away mosquitoes.
In Beijing, dragon boat races, as an important recreational activity for this festival, are held in many parks. These can be exciting occasions. In some places, a dragon boat race may include 50-60 dragon boats with their bows decorated with wooden dragonheads in various colors (golden, yellow, white or black) and shapes. At the start, dragon boats dart out like arrows towards the finish line amid a deafening chorus of drums, gongs and cheering spectators, pushing the festival atmosphere to a climax.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional festival only second to the Spring Festival, falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Since the moon is full that evening, it is also considered as a festival of reunion, when families get together to eat moon cakes and appreciate the moon.
In ancient China, people used moon cakes (called yuebing in Chinese) as offerings when worshipping the Gold of Moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The Altar of Moon in Beijing is where the Ming and Qing emperors offered sacrifices to the moon. Later, people began to associate the full moon with the Mid-Autumn Festival and moon cakes with family reunions; gradually moon cakes became a must for the festival. Few Beijngers offer sacrifices to the moon these days, but people still consider it important to join the family for a reunion dinner.