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Annual Chinese Holidays
Chapter 1 - Chinese New Year
Chapter 2 - Qing Ming – Clear Brightness Festival
Chapter 3 - Dragon Boat Festival
Chapter 4 - Double Seventh Day
Chapter 5 - Hungry Ghosts Festival
Chapter 6 - Mid-Autumn Festival
Chapter 7 - Double Ninth Day


Part 2: Chinese Special Occasions
Chapter 8 - Weddings
Chapter 9 - Red Egg and Ginger to Celebrate New Babies
Chapter 10 - Big Birthdays
Chapter 11 - Funerals
Chapter 12 - Table Etiquette and Other Delicacies


Auntie Lao says: Be fashion-forward by mixing red with pink.

Chapter 1 – Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a time of noisy firecrackers, red envelopes of lucky money and foods of good fortune. Celebrations typically begin in late January and run through mid-February, making Chinese New Year a 15-day festival filled with activities and events. The multitude of customs and rituals practiced during the most significant Chinese holiday of the year include:

• The Kitchen God ritual and legend
• The practice of “Spring Cleaning” and resolving old debts
• Hanging good luck sayings and spring couplets
• Selecting flowers most auspicious to the Chinese New Year season
• Wearing a new wardrobe
• Making ancestral and deity offerings
• How to give “lucky money” in red envelopes
• The fervor surrounding the color red and lighting firecrackers

Read about the season’s culinary delights that extend beyond the daily fried rice and fortune cookies, and learn about the foods typically associated with the holiday:

• Chinese New Year’s Eve family dinner menu
• The Monk’s Vegetarian Dish
• The Tray of Togetherness
• Nian Gao – the traditional Chinese New Year’s gelatinous cake
• The meaning of tangerines and other foods considered to be of good fortune
• Two Southern China ancestral village Chinese New Year’s cookie recipes

This chapter’s 15 Days of Chinese New Year summarizes how each day of the two-week celebration is earmarked to acknowledge the birthdays of the earth’s most common species. It all culminates with the full moon’s Lantern Festival, filled with Chinese New Year’s parades, the Gum Lung dragon, lion dances, and a look at the Chinese astrological calendar.

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Auntie Lao says: Tie a yellow ribbon around a bamboo stick
for your beloved’s resting site.

Chapter 2 – Qing Ming – The Clear Brightness Festival

It’s traditional Chinese belief that a person’s good fortune is directly linked to the happiness of one’s ancestral spirits. The Clear Brightness Festival, also known as Qing Ming, is a springtime celebration that acknowledges the dead. This chapter covers the gravesite ritual and ancient beliefs practiced annually in early April:

• Festival of the dead to express devotion, respect, and remembrance
   of ancestors
• Gravesite offerings of food, drink, and flowers
• Ritual of burning spirit money, joss sticks, candles, and lighting firecrackers
• Significance of the pine and the willow

Meet Imperial loyalist, Jie Zi Tui of the Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.E.), who established the semi-fast mandate of eating only cold food on the eve of Clear Brightness, and learn about the protective powers of the willow.

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Auntie Lao says: Hang a mirror over the front door
to reflect away lurking evil.

Chapter 3 – Dragon Boat Festival

Over 2,000 years ago, one of China’s earliest known poets met his demise on the day of the Double Fifth, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival, which is considered the unluckiest day of the lunar year. This chapter explains:

• Why the fifth lunar month is considered unlucky
• The five charms to counteract evil forces and spirits
• Festival origins to honor the River Dragon for a bountiful rice harvest
• The tragedy of China’s beloved poet Qu Yuan

Learn about the fine art of making joong (zongzi), glutinous rice packages wrapped in bamboo leaves that is a culinary specialty of the Dragon Boat Festival. Joong originates from Qu Yuan’s story, as it was used as an offering to satisfy his spirit in the otherworld.

The chapter concludes with the growing popularity of dragon boat racing as an international demonstration sport. It identifies the most prestigious dragon boat racing championships and competitions held internationally and in North America with a list of Dragon Boat Racing Associations to help get your paddles wet.

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Auntie Lao says: Wish for clear skies
on the eve of Double Seven.

Chapter 4 – Double Seventh Day

Double Seventh Day is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month for a day of worship in the realm of romance. Also referred to as Seven Sisters day, it’s a festival for women when the Cowherd and the Weaving Maiden are reunited. This holiday’s tradition includes acknowledging:

• The story of the Cowherd and the Weaving Maiden
• The traditional sewing season that is associated with the seventh month
• The old ritual of reading a needle’s shadow to determine a woman’s
   sewing talents
• Decorating altars as offering for good marriages and spouses
• The meaning of spider boxes

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Auntie Lao says: Only the brave marry during the
seventh month, the month of the hungry ghosts.

Chapter 5 – Hungry Ghosts Festival

The feast of the Hungry Ghosts is held to nourish forgotten, underprivileged ghosts. This All Souls’ Day is held on the 15th day of the seventh month and is associated with the Chinese belief system that hungry ghosts roam the earth during the seventh moon. This chapter includes:

• The threat of hungry ghosts during the seventh month
• Raw food offerings in makeshift “public” altars
• The old practice of releasing water lanterns

Meet the Buddhist disciple, Mu Lian, who freed his mother’s spirit from purgatory through his filial devotion and ultimate vow to deliver all beings to a haven of peace and happiness.

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Auntie Lao says: Give moon cakes
to impress your Chinese mother-in-law.

Chapter 6 – Mid-Autumn Festival

The full autumn moon, a symbol of the well-rounded family, is celebrated with moon-gazing and secret wishes on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Learn about the customs and stories that foster a bountiful harvest and familial unity including:

• Lunar calendar, harvest season origins
• The Moon Goddess, Chang-E, and her lunar companions,
   the Moon Hare and Woodcutter, and her estranged husband,
   Hou Yi, the Divine Archer
• The Moon Festival family table and ritualistic practices
• Traditional foods of the season—taro, pomelo, and snails

Moon cakes are the featured delicacies of the season. This chapter demystifies the variety of moon cake fillings available at a Chinatown bakery, moon cake gifting, and how moon cakes claimed a role in Mongol Empire history.

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Auntie Lao says: Never blow on lit incense with your breath.

Chapter 7 – Double Ninth Day

Double Ninth Day, or Chong Yang, is highly auspicious to the Chinese as the number nine connotes longevity. This chapter defines the symbolism surrounding the festival celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month with an explanation of ritual Chinese practice and an introduction to the Nine Emperor God. Activities for the day include:

• A second visit of the year to the ancestral gravesite to ready the spirits
   for the winter season
• Scaling the heights as in the legend of Huan Jing, the Han Dynasty scholar
   who established the practice of hiking on this day
• The customs of drinking chrysanthemum wine, eating cake, and enjoying
   poetry

This chapter includes a simple lesson on Chinese numerology by identifying yin and yang numbers that deliver health, wealth, and good fortune on this auspicious day of double nines.

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Auntie Lao says: Life’s happiness comes in pairs.

Chapter 8 – Chinese Wedding

For centuries, the dragon and the phoenix have been symbols representing the bride and groom in Chinese weddings. The days of the bridal processional where a bride is fully veiled and carried through the streets in a sedan chair to the groom’s home are no longer, but the rites of matrimony are still steeped in tradition. Chinese wedding arrangements include:

• Consulting the Chinese Almanac for astrological compatibility of the couple
• Selecting an ideal wedding date
• Exchange of bride and groom’s betrothal gifts
• The bride’s dowry
• Chinese wedding attire and gifts
• Designated responsibilities for the occasion

Savor the “Bride’s Cookie Day,” a gathering to seal the announcement of the bride’s engagement among the bride’s relatives where bridal cakes called beng are delivered by the groom’s family as a gesture of exchange for the intended bride’s hand.

The climax of a Chinese wedding is the evening banquet where the multi-course menu is decoded to recognize the culinary balance of yin and yang. Wedding banquet festivities can include lion dances, games of jest, and the ceremonial tea ritual as the rite of passage into adulthood.

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Auntie Lao says: Jade calms a child’s heart.


Chapter 9 – Red Egg and Ginger to Celebrate New Babies

There are few occasions that deliver the joy and hope a new child brings, and with a new baby boy, the Chinese get downright giddy. The Chinese introduce new babies into the community with the great fanfare of Red Egg and Ginger parties.

• The baby’s “mun yurt” (full month) celebration to mark the first milestone
   where hard-boiled red eggs and ginger are served at the table alongside
   a host of symbolic dishes
• The healing qualities of ginger for the new mother
• Significance of Whiskey Ginger Chicken Soup and Black Vinegar Pigs’ Feet
   with Eggs including old village recipes
• The shape and size of Red Egg and Ginger parties depending on a child’s birth
   order, sex, and family preference
• Descriptions of traditional gift ideas for the new baby including Chinese tiger
   motif clothing, a good luck charm hat, and “lock” necklaces
• The baby’s first haircut and how to predict the child’s talents and profession
   with a fortune-telling tray
• Giving your child the perfect Chinese name

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Auntie Lao says: Reaching the age of longevity
is a well-deserved honor.

Chapter 10 – Big Birthdays

Traditionally, the Chinese believe it’s bad form to throw a birthday bash before the age of 50. Birthdays worthy of celebration begin at 60 years, marking a successful completion of an entire lunar calendar cycle of elements and signs. Karma dictates that a long life well lived determines the quality in the next life. The age of longevity is acknowledged by:

• The Chinese Birthday Banquet with the flavors of sweet and sorrow
• The traditional long life robe
• Gifts for birthday elders who already possess everything
• God of Longevity and significance of the peach
• Long life symbols and elements

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Auntie Lao says: Taste the sweet to lessen the bitter.

Chapter 11 - Funerals

The loss of a loved one is always a complex process. Funerals for many Chinese Americans can lead to confusion as they live in a culture divided between Christianity and traditional Chinese customs rooted in Buddhism. The rituals and practices associated with traditional Chinese funerals include:

• The evening wake, funeral services, processional, and cemetery burial
• Offerings to the newly deceased
• Mourning accessories worn by family members
• White entry packets and red departure envelopes
• The role of the benevolent association
• The family farewell dinner
• Packages prepared for family members intended to light the way out
   of darkness

Flowers play a significant role of respect with impressive arrangements in symbolic images, wreaths, and banners. Supernatural items such as candles, incense sticks, spirit currency, and paper replicas of everyday items are designated for a journey from earth to heaven.

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Auntie Lao says: Always present and accept a gift with two hands.

Chapter 12 – Table Etiquette and Other Delicacies

Whether the occasion is a celebratory Chinese banquet or the obligatory Chinese New Year’s family dinner at home, you can dine and entertain in traditional Chinese settings with confidence. Tips on gracious dining at a Chinese table include:

• Giving an ideal Chinese hostess gift
• Dining at home vs. a Chinese restaurant
• Using chopsticks and identifying the most important course of the meal
• Appropriate dinner conversation
• Toasting and thanking the host

Learn about the significance of pouring tea and serving food for your neighboring diner, and the proper use of toothpicks at the meal’s end. Also, while dining in high-end Chinese restaurants, showing a sign of appreciation to the wait staff with the old Imperial custom of “tapping,” delivers attentive service.

An introduction to popular Chinese teas, the ubiquitous beverage for all occasions, is covered in the section dedicated to Chinese beverages, which also includes the famous mao tai, a clear fermented rice liquor typically used for toasting, as well as Chinese beers and wines.

At last, distinguishing between Mandarin and Sichuan cooking can be tricky. Knowing the differences between Mandarin, Shanghai, Cantonese, Sichuan, and Hunan cuisine will impress friends and the Chinese palate.

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