Friday, March 23, 2012

Holidays in China

Holidays in China are a big thing. Most holidays that are celebrated in China will result in at least a 3-day weekend and the biggest holidays can result in a week off from work. Chinese workers generally get twice as much time off from work as American workers normally do. This system has its flaws though because often you will have to work a weekend before to make up for multiple days. That means on a holiday where you would get three days off, you would have to work two of them on a Saturday and Sunday. This in turn negates any benefits to a holiday and is possibly one of the most annoying practices ever. The biggest holidays in China are Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, (春节) and National Day (国庆节).
Chinese New Year is a traditional holiday and its celebration is based on the Chinese lunar calendar. The peoples of Korea and Vietnam celebrate the New Year in a similar fashion based on the old lunar calendar system as well. The Japanese used to do such but after the Meiji Restoration, Japan now celebrates its New Year based on the Gregorian calendar. Chinese New Year is a big family holiday. Family members will travel home for the holidays and see their relatives. This makes Chinese New Year a terrible time to travel because not only do 1.3 billion people have at least a week off from work and school but they also have to travel around. Individual families will visit their relatives and bring them gifts.  Each day of the festival, about 15 in total, involves different customs and dinners with family. The first night of the festival usually involves fireworks and the last day of the festival involves fireworks. You will usually have everyone using fireworks within this 15-day period including young children as old as four. The time frame for fireworks use will range from 8 in the morning until 2-3 at night. This is usually the favorite holiday of most Mainland Chinese. Everyone gets new clothes, there are big sales, and younger people receive red envelopes with money in them. The holiday, though interesting, is a terrible holiday to visit China during. If you don’t have any family, there’s very little to do. Most the stores are closed during the holiday and all the restaurants will be closed except for big foreign chains like McDonalds. You also cannot travel during this period because it’s impossible to get a train ticket and airline tickets cost about 2-4 times more than they usually do.
Chinese National Day is October 1st and comes with a week long holiday. The day celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. The holiday is generally like Spring Break in America though adults usually get the week off as well. Stores and restaurants will still be open though. This is also a bad time to travel because the prices are much more expensive and the experience is generally terrible due to the volume of people traveling.  During this time, you will see a lot of flags out like during the 4th of July in America and a very similar sentiment in most places.
The other Chinese holidays, though granting time off are less exciting. Tomb Sweeping Day (清明节) and the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节)are pretty muted in many areas for instance. The Dragon Boat Festival though is a bigger deal in Southern Chinese areas, especially Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, due to the amount of rivers and proximity to water. The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节)is very similar to Thanksgiving in many respects but is short in length compared to Chinese New Year. In Mainland China they celebrate International Labor Day too, May 1, and you will generally get the days off before it happens.
Western holidays like Christmas have started making inroads into China. This is mostly because of commercialization. Though the average Chinese person has no idea what the meaning of Christmas is, a reluctance to discuss anything related to religion, and only a vague understanding of who Jesus was, they know about Christmas. Stores will put up Christmas decorations and trees but it is very secular. The main drive of Christmas in China is to get people to buy things and it does not have other meanings like it does in Japan for instance where it's a dating holiday. In Hong Kong though, Christmas is a big drinking and date holiday. The subways and buses run 24 hours on Christmas Eve to accommodate the revelers. Though Hong Kong has a large Christian population and was a British possession, the holiday still remains largely secular on the island.