Tag Archives: Chinese holiday

#Travel and the Lunar New Year!

15 Feb

新年快乐!! ❤️

I hope the new year brings you many Blessings and gifts from Heaven. I hope your Family is healthy, wealthy, happy, and wise. I hope you make many new friends and keep the old ones. I Hope your table is overflowing with Food and drinks. I hope your classes are all informative and your jobs interesting. I hope you learn and grow and live in happiness full of all sorts of wonderful things!!!

11/11 (The Chinese Black Friday)

11 Nov


For those of you who cast bitter dispersion on Valentine’s Day and the other lover-focused holidays, here is a day you might want to get behind!

November 11 (11/11) is China’s “Single’s Day” also known as  Guānggùn Jié (光棍节). The number 1 represents the single individual, standing tall, proud, and (on 11/11) united together with lots of other 1s. Of course, eleven could also be 1 + 1 = 2 – so it is also a holiday where single’s confess their feelings and hopefully become part of a 2.


It isn’t exactly clear where the holiday came from, although all agree college students started it. Some legends say that a boy’s dorm full of single boys decided to meet girls by hosting several activities on 11/11 in the hopes of meeting a girlfriend. Others say that they decided to buy themselves lots of presents to make themselves feel better about their “single-ness” and to sort of combat the depression that came with not being part of the Valentine’s day gift-giving phenomenon. In general, China has a gender-balance issue with far more boys than girls in the current “dating” generation. It has created a larger number of singles than they are used to experiencing and “singleness” has become a more widely-felt issue than in the past. So a day to boost the spirits of those non-coupled people started catching on and the holiday started spreading to other college campuses.

Whatever its origins, 11/11 or Double 11 has turned into one of the world’s LARGEST shopping events ever. It’s the day when singles can buy presents for themselves – treasure and items they’ve been keeping an eye on for a while. Unlike the US which operates around Amazon, Ebay, Walmart, Etsy, etc., China has its own online shopping marts in JD.com, 1688.com, Taobao, and TMall. At the same time, many small businesses run their online companies via social media in the form of WeChat, Weibo, and QQ. And come 11/11, and they all make a showing of coupons, discounts, sales, advertisements, massive marketing, and more.


This year (2016), revenue was expected to reach more than $20,000,000,000. That’s almost $5 Billion more than Alibaba alone made in 2015. In 2014, the sales of 11/11 were twice the size US shopping megahauls on Cyber Monday and Black Friday in 2015. They certainly were well on their way to hitting their estimates this year with almost 180,000 people filing purchases each second and sales up to $5 Billion in the first couple of hours today.

So how does it work? In the days leading up to the sale, the companies put out their advertisements. Shoppers can put items in their cart ahead of time, and the price will simply update as soon as the sale starts. Then, when the clock strikes Midnight, you race to purchase. Given that most of these companies operate primarily through phone apps, it is unsurprising that most purchases this year (greater than 80%) were made via phones. It also doesn’t hurt that Chinese wifi is notoriously slow outside major cities and all but stops completely on 11/11 due to massive usage rates–so your best internet options are via Mobile Data. So at around 23:59 on November 10, every has their products in the basket and the phones ready to go. As soon as the clock changes over, the mad dash begins. Products sell out in seconds, with some gone in under a minute. The whole system starts crashing almost immediately under the pressure, as I saw today with Taobao constantly rejecting my purchases and Alipay (China’s PayPal) crashing for the first 2-5 minutes.


Notice that three of the major online shopping companies (Taobao, T-Mall, and 1688) all belong to Alibaba – China’s largest company. Alibaba is who took a ‘small-time’ holiday and turned it into a national event. Alibaba realized that sales were great before the National Holiday (first week of October) and later in the Spring. But late Fall/Winter didn’t really have a major shopping day. So they decided to capitalize on the absence and create their own shopping holiday. Examining the increasingly popular 11/11, they decided that the day was perfect and the opportunities vast. In 2009, the company started the first of their large scale advertising campaigns, although only 27 sellers participated at first and they only made around $700,000.

But the timing was right, given that E-commerce was just starting to take off. Between 2009 and 2013, Alibaba saw a 5,000%+ increase in their 11/11 revenues, launching owner Jack Ma into Chinese and international stardom. In 2011 (a super lucky 11/11/11), they sold closer to $80 million. And this year they surpassed their 2015 sales of $14 billion within 16 hours. The event is in fact so important that Alibaba trademarked 双十一 (Shuāng shíyī which means Double 11). Their advertising is the stuff of legends, having morphed now into an international incident. Earlier this month they hosted an 8-hour fashion show to jump start the event, and last night they put on a three-hour television “special” where famous Chinese and Western stars (the Beckhams came by), singers (One Republic made a showing), and moguls came out to speak with Chinese shoppers and encourage them to lay down the cash.

Within 5 minutes, Alibaba had already sold almost $1 Billion, and after 7 minutes the number was up to $1.5 Billion. At 10pm, they announced their GMV (Gross Merchandise Volume or Revenue) was approximately $16,000,000,000. Even if you accept some people’s argument that as much as 25% of all products are later returned or cancelled, it’s still obvious that the market is growing and holiday spending is on the rise.

It’s worth noting that Alibaba also owns Ant Financial, the company operating Alipay – China’s largest online payment services program and the main competitor to Paypal. With 20% of all sales going through Alipay, that makes up more than 176 million online transactions they profited from today.


Foreign Imports are certainly not left out, with companies like Apple, Nike, Ugg, Zara, and Korean Make-up brands bringing in fortunes. According to Alibaba, this year’s most popular brands have been Nike, Apple, New Balance, Playboy, and Skechers. However, Pampers, Mead Johnson, and Wyeth are popular among the rural areas. In addition to the US, major international sellers include South Korea, Japan, Germany, and Australia. Some foreign companies use the day as a launching moment for new products or branches. The US led sales last year, and imports made up about 10-11% of all sales on 11/11.

At the same time, I have noticed a marked slowing down amongst the local students in shopping on this holiday. Many point out that companies will actually raise prices before the holiday, such that the discounts are really the normal price rather an a sale. Students also dislike the fact that delivery (which usually is around 1-3 days in China, even for the cheapest shipping) can take up to 2-3 weeks after 11/11. Some companies won’t even attempt shipping perishables until the madhouse dies down, with one company telling me they would suspend my shipment of cheese for 10-20 days until they were sure it would reach me with the ice still intact. Thankfully, my experience with Chinese packaging has been extremely good – packages are well wrapped, safely ensconced, and almost always arrive undamaged by the trip.

Nonetheless, almost everyone has pitched in and made a few purchases today. I ended up spending far too much (don’t tell) because I picked up some household appliances that were on sale. Household appliances are a big deal today – for example a 2000RMB oven was priced at 200RMB today and some baking pans had a 100RMB discount. Snacks, clothes, electronics, and beauty products are also major sellers. Now that winter is starting to come, many students picked up some winter coats and warmer clothes. While others wait until today to hit up JD.com for computers, tablets, phones and more.

So if you are tired of watching couple exchange gifts on lover’s day, then take the Chinese advice and buy something for yourself on the next 11/11! As I’m writing this, it’s just hitting midnight here in China, but you still have a long time in the US! If you were buying a present for yourself, what would it be?!?

Life in China ~ Chinese Holidays

8 Mar


Here is a brief introduction to Chinese Holidays! I’ve included a list of the main national holidays and what they represent in the Chinese Culture 🙂

Chinese Holidays are a beautiful experience, and you should take advantage of any opportunity to take part in the fun traditions! 



They bring out some Amazing Decorations, like the lanterns (classic red hanging lanterns and the big white ones we send up in the sky) and awesome light and flower displays.




Delicious Foods-with special, unique dishes served on different holidays. The Baozi (Fried Dumplings) and Noodles recipes may even change by city, each town offering their own version of the classic “holiday snacks”



Friends and family come out in droves to take in the sights together-if you are lucky and have a good relationship with your students, they may invite you home with them. Having an opportunity to stay in their homes and see the way they live will give you the best glimpse into the “real” China.


Like in the USA, holidays in China are always accompanied by cool events and markets–filled with fun sights and exciting shopping finds. 🙂

DSC00179And of course, who could forget the fireworks? Fireworks go off everyday in my home city and could have any number of meanings. During weddings and funerals, the processions will often drive around the city square shooting off fireworks. New Jobs, Babies, Graduation, Birthdays–all warrant a few dozen “pops and cracks” to share the joy! And holidays are the best! When night comes around, find a roof and set up your chairs. Starting around dusk, people all over the city will start setting off their own displays–sometimes you can have as many as 10-12 different views at once. Of course, some people wait until the others are finished, which makes for a longer viewing time–they usually go all night and well through the next few days. 

So What are the Chinese Major Holidays?

Mid-Autumn Festival / Moon


The first holiday of the new school year, the “Mid-Autumn Festival” is always a happy event, full of good food and friends.  In honor of the moon (and its astrological ties to the harvest and agriculture), the Chinese take a day in celebrate and express their thankfulness for all that they have been given. It’s kind of their version of “Thanksgiving”–a day to show your appreciation for the bountiful gifts you’ve been given in life, especially with the people you love. It always falls on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Since the lunar calendar doesn’t match our western calendar, the day changes for us.  However, it does always fall on the biggest moon of the year, so it’s also called the Moon Festival! In China, usually the event is celebrated with a day of no classes on either the Friday or Monday closest to the holiday.  The Special Food of the week is the MOON CAKE–a small bread cake made of usually a heavy dough and candied treats inside. Most students prefer the “Red-Bean” filled version, but I’m more particular to the nuts and candied fruits version. They come in lots of varieties, so try a few! 

National Holiday

Americans have their “Fourth of July”; the Chinese have their “National Holiday.”  Taking a break to celebrate National Day is an ancient tradition extending centuries in Chinese history. Traditionally, it was when they celebrated the emperor’s rise to power, but today it’s the week they celebrate the founding of government of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. The day itself is October 1st, but they always get 7 days off of school and work. So it actually runs October 1st to October 7th and is a major national event. 

For the Chinese, it is a mixture of national holiday and family celebration. People who live far away will meet up with missed family members and together the family groups will go off to see the famous tourist sites in China. In a way, they are celebrating two of the most important things to Chinese nationalists–family values and national pride. Merchants come out in force, selling their wares up and down the city streets as the roads come to a stand-still and the children appear in force. The tourist sites fill up, everyone looking to catch sight of the famous landmarks and artifacts.  Since October is such a beautiful time of year, it’s a great time to be outside and perfect weather for the trips. A lot of people will do nature hikes in the mountains or visit the beautiful temples and gardens. It’s also a fun time to catch many of the “Flower festivals!”  

Thanks to the “governmental” element of the holiday, it’s also a really fun time to be in Beijing! The military frequently hosts parades and the state puts on celebrations in the capital as part of the big event.

Sports Day (School Holiday)

Sports day is only a holiday in the school system, but every school will host an event sometime in the spring.  It’s usually a two-day affair where every student (or at least certain classes) has to participate in one sport or another. Races, bicycling, swimming, basketball–all sports are welcome!  The teachers are welcomed to participate, and it is a wonderfully fun event all around. We are especially encouraged to help with the parade floats and even given our own “Foreign Teacher’s” Float! 

Tomb-Sweeping Day

Also called the “Qingming Festival,” this April event the annual celebration of Spring and new beginnings.  Known in English as the “Tomb-Sweeping Festival” or the “Pure Brightness Holiday,” it falls on April 4th or 5th on our calendars each year.  

According to Chinese legend, centuries ago there lived a good man by the name of Jie Zitui. He was the loyal follower of a great Chinese noble named Duke Wen, who had been forced into exile for a time. realizing that his lord was starving, Jie Zitui cut of a portion of his own leg to create a soup.  Many years later, someone reminded the Duke about Jie’s unrewarded service, and the Duke went to offer him a reward. Through a series of unfortunate decisions, the Duke tragically ended up burning Jie to death while trying to find him. Attached to the body was a note requesting that the Duke be a good ruler, fair and prosperous for his people. To acknowledge his service and in regret for what had happened, the Duke declared his death to be the Hanshi Festival–a day people would only eat cold foods in rememberance of Jie.

The Hanshi Festival coincides with another major Chinese holiday–the Qingming Festival. This is the time when spring begins, weather gets nicer, and nourishing rains begin. The Qingming Festival is the time the Chinese set aside as a “Memorial Day” of those who came before and a celebration of future happiness now. They have combined this with the Hanshi Festival, and it’s a time of eating cold foods and appreciating all that has been done for us by those who came before. So each year, all of the Chinese come together in the cemeteries to sweep out the tombs, clean up the area, and offer sacrifices of food, flowers, and paper money to their loved ones now gone. 

At the same time, it’s the Spring Festival. They rejoice in the freshness of green leaves, clean air, and the bright and beautiful days it promises. A lot of outdoor activities are popular, like flying kites, eating outside, playing in the gardens, planting trees, and visiting outdoor tourist sites. The kites are especially important–they usually include small lanterns on the end and at the end of the flight, the children cut the strings allowing the kite to soar away and hopefully shake down some good luck from the heavens.  

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice isn’t necessarily a major holiday, but it is one of the fun ‘food’ events! It falls on the winter solstice (duh!) in November and is a celebration of the beginning of winter. According to Chinese tradition (and despite what some people say, everyone in my area is a strict follower of this), it is absolutely VITAL to eat the “ear-shaped” dumplings on this day.  If you don’t, legend has it that your ears will fall off in the coming months! Great Tragedy of all Tragedies!  Eating such delicious food–what a hardship. 😛 

Labor Day


Labor day in May is pretty much the same the world around, and China’s no different.  Here, we take a day off and celebrate the lack of classes 😛  Since most students don’t return home this day (it can fall in the middle of the week), it’s often a day when teachers and students hang out together and become more familiar.  Or for me, the day my student friends and I go hunt down our new fish for the year in the local pond 🙂  We have to get rid of our old ones during winter holiday because we aren’t around to feed them. So now, we go hang out in the beautiful gardens and grab some new friends to swim in our fishy bowls. ❤

Single’s Day- 11/11

Singles' day illustration.png

Best Holiday ever!  Falls on November 11 each year and is the biggest shopping holiday in China (and one of the largest in the world). It’s known as “Single’s Day” because the number 1 is single and looks like a stick by itself (Chinese translation is “lonely sticks holiday” 😛 To make up for the sad fact of singleness, the Chinese take time to have a party!  It’s now the #1 Shopping Day in Asia–with China’s online sites like Taobao and WeChat shoppers taking the lead in sales.  The sales are amazing and the things you can buy unending. I’ve found some wonderful things on Single’s day, which pretty much cure any grief I have over the singleness. US should pick up on this tradition!

Valentine’s Day (7/7 in Lunar Months or 2/14) and White Day (3/14). 


Asia has this whole relationships thing pretty much worked out by now-Single’s Day, Girl’s Day, and Boy’s Day are all covered! I already mentioned Single’s Day (11/11) and the awesome buys you can grab.

But of course, there is also the traditional Valentine’s Day for true lovers. Some people in China celebrate this on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, the traditional date. They still use this as a popular day to visit matchmakers and temples to pray for good matches. 🙂 But more and more people are adopting the 2/14 date of for the “love day”.  Still, the date may be the same but the tradition is a little different. See, in China, Valentine’s Day is when girls give boys chocolate! Asia is perhaps a little more forthright in expressing their feelings and Valentine’s is the day when girl’s get a chance to confess their love. If the boy likes her, he’ll return the favor on White Day. If not, he simply thanks her for her gift and appreciation and moves on.  It’s important to notice that it’s a day where girls are safe making their confessions. Boys who were raised well would never hurt her feelings by rejecting the chocolate or kindness-they simply tell her yes or no kindly. It’s especially important because it lets them know she has a crush and they will be aware in the future not to hurt her or abuse her feelings. And it lets them know if they have a chance or not on their special day!  At the same time, a lot of established couple’s use this as their romantic day–giving one another gifts and going out together.

The boys get White Day a month later in March to make their confessions. Now, the boys have to cough up the chocolate treasures, in addition to roses, jewelry, apples, and other fun presents. It’s a big day at school!  Last year, a boy got on his knees outside the dorm and serenaded his girlfriend for hours.  That’s when you know it’s love ❤

Dragon Boat Festival


Rode the Dragon Boats!

This is probably my favorite of all the Spring holidays, in no small part due to the legend. 🙂 An ancient holiday, it has been celebrated with traditional events going back 2000+ years!  

The myth says that in the 220s BC, a great minister lived by the name of Qu Yuan. Unfortunately, he suffered from the lies of others and was banished by the emperor. Nonetheless, he loved his country and wrote many of China’s famous poem from the era. Unfortunately, upon hearing that his country was falling to the Qin army, he could not bear the news and was overcome with grief. He flung himself into the river and was caught up by the waters. Horrified, the people rushed to put out their dragon boats and search for his body. To keep the fish and animals from feeding on the body, the people on land distracted them by throwing small pieces of food and pulling them towards shore while the men searched the river.

Photo by JungleKey

Every year, even now centuries later, the people still remember this famous writer and his love for China by commemorating his death. They still have celebrations along the river, feeding the fish and racing dragon boats up and down. They also have the classic lion competitions, fireworks, and other fun cultural traditions to celebrate. If you live here, you also have to try out the Zongzi, the holiday’s famous dish!


New Year’s Festival

ZodiacThe New Year’s Festival is of course the largest festival of the year, running fifteen days beginning with the first day of the new lunar year. That’s technically, in reality it starts about a week earlier and will last through the Lantern Festival. 

Also called the “Spring Festival,” this holiday is perhaps the most ancient holiday in Chinese history and the largest/most significant by far. In the west, we know it for the dragon dances, massive parades, fireworks, and yearly animal changes.

Did you know that the fireworks and red color actually partially came from a myth where a monster (Nian) who like to eat little children was only afraid of red and loud noises. So to save their children, the people changed everything to red and shot fireworks to scare him off. They commemorate this fight by using the two traditions in most holiday today.

It’s a little bit different in China from expectations. The closest thing I can think of to compare it with for western readers is a mixture of “Christmas” and “Thanksgiving” and “New Year’s” all together.

Common events for the Festival include:

  • Everyone going home. Families generally return to the hometown of the husband’s oldest living ancestors for the holiday (i.e. his grandfather) and meet up with everyone else. This can end up with a surprising number of family members at the reunion–one of my students has more than 1000 people at his family’s reunion each year. 

  • Family’s hang out at home. We think in terms of outdoor events, but it’s mostly playing games, hanging out, eating, cooking, sleeping, and catching up at home. This is the “Thanksgiving” element 🙂
  • Gifts–a lot of people give gifts to one another for the holiday!  Some of them are meant for luck or money or good fortune or a happy life. Children get small “red envelopes” filled with cash. Usually enough to get them through the year–sometime quite a fortune. The richer you are, the more expensive your gifts should be!
  • Decorations abound and cleaning begins! The Chinese are strong believers in the power of words, and banner or signs a strung up all over the place with phrases requesting good fortune and a happy future in the new year. New Red Lanterns are strung up, buildings are repaired and touched up, shops and homes are spruced up, people get new clothes and beautify to start a fresh new year off right!
  • The Cities are emptied. Most of the major cities are filled with immigrants from the farming villages or smaller towns outside. Since everyone returns home, it means the cities actually end up pretty quiet for the holiday. 
  • Shops close. I’ve mentioned this before, but EVERYTHING closes the week of the 1st. Government buildings, private shops, family restaurants, even the small street vendors disappear. If you want groceries, you have to stock up 5 or 6 days before and have enough for at least 10 days to get you through. Nothing is open, even the tourist sites close.
  • Although we expect major celebrations like in the US Chinatowns, China is actually really quiet during the holiday. The day of the 1st can have a lot of markets, street vendors, and “fair-type” events. Some of the largest cities will put on events like lion dances or bands, but small towns may not have anything. At night, the families do set off major fireworks though!  Get yourself a good roof spot because it’s guaranteed to be an awesome show!

Lantern Festival

ChinaThe last holiday is the beautiful Lantern festival, truly one of my all time favorites.  The Lantern Festival actually occurs on the last day of the New Year’s Festival and is kind of the last big event of the holiday.  

This is the very first major holiday of the new year and is a time of making good wishes and declaring your hopes for the coming year. The name comes from the traditional lighting and decorating of the towns and cities with classic “Chinese Lanterns.” The new red ones are lit up and fancy versions in the form of shapes and figures dance along the streets. They come in tons of colors and pictures, each representing different myths, stories, messages, and dreams.

City squares are turned into bright, people-filled centers of fun and activities. Lion dancers, dragon dancers, acrobats,  and animal performers come out in droves. The street markets re-open with all their wares, filling the aisles with their prices and bargains.  Games and toys show up for children to play with–everything from sandboxes to carts to trampolines and “shoot the balloon” classic carnival games. Everyone has great fun, since all the families are still together and are happy at the chance to spend time with each other before the work load starts again.

p60222-195333.jpgMost importantly though is the night festival.  Everyone goes out and buys one of the large “fire-lit” lanterns (they come in all sorts of colors, but white or blue is best). At night they come together throughout the city along the river, in the city square, at the parks, wherever there is room to write their dreams and hopes on the lanterns. They then set the wax on fire, wait until it is hot enough to rise, and then set then aloft in the sky. Together, they watch, hope, and pray as their dreams rise up to the heavens and the new season officially begins.  Once you participate in these, you’ll see just how magical the whole situation really is. Even the smaller towns have thousands of people all sending up their lanterns. The skies are filled, sometimes with hundreds and thousands of lanterns all at once.  


China’s culture is a beautiful thing, filled with colors and magic and family and dreams and stories and all the things a great holiday needs. The holidays here, and there are hundreds of smaller ones I didn’t get to, are a wonderful thing to experience and be a part of. Even though we have “Chinatowns” all over the world, the true Chinese experience is something unique and different. Only when you visit their landscape, meet the families they so love, hear the legends that provide the backdrop, eat the foods they make special for each event, and meet the culture they have preserved for centuries will you really begin to understand this ancient and beautiful nation. 

Happy Winter Solstice!

22 Dec

In China, the shortest day of the year is a pretty big holiday full of yummy food, friends hanging out together, and lots of memories.

 It is especially important this year to my seniors.  College in China is arranged a little bit differently than in America, or at least the program here at SIAS is.  The seniors won’t really be returning next semester; they will spend their final time at college working on a major thesis and getting practical experience in the big wide world.  While many of them have decided to stay in the area, life is changing for them right now.  No more classes all together, no more busy dorms and exciting group activities await them.  Mostly its a time for timid dreams and future worries; a time when they are reminded of just how precious this 3.5 year period, and these wonderful friends, have actually been.  

For the past seven semesters, each set of students have lived together (dorms are divided by major and year), studied together (as freshman, they are divided by major and exam-score, so that each group of students has every class with the same students for the rest of the school career), played together (KTV, KTV, KTV!!!), and grown together.  They encourage and prod and love each other to death for this brief, but much beloved time. Then, as it does for all college students, it ends as quickly as it began.  Suddenly, they find themselves drifting in different directions, with this one headed to Shanghai, that one to Australia, and these two King’s College in England.  They are realizing just how scary that future is and trying to cling to as much of their time together as they can.

Thus, Winter Solstice, the last holiday before the semester ends in China, is an especially important one for my students this year.  According to tradition, people must get together and eat dumplings on the Winter Solstice; otherwise their ears will freeze in the coming winter and they will both fall off.  Supposedly, eating ear-shaped dumplings will help you keep your ears warm in the future. It’s a time for friends, fun, and storing up great memories for the present. A time to love and remember that you are loved.  

So, in honor of my much beloved, parting students; they would like me to wish you the same spirit of the season. We would like to wish you all a very happy Winter Solstice. May today’s dumplings be your best dumplings! May all of your friends be present! and May all of your Memories be Cherished.


Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

8 Sep

September 8th was the day the Chinese celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, kind of their version of Thanksgiving.  It’s a day where they appreciate the harvests and eat yummy mooncakes (amongst other foods) with their families, all while gazing at the moon.  One of my students recommended that I drink black tea while eating the mooncake because it (enhanced the natural flavor and burns off the sugar).  It did go might well together, if I say so myself 🙂


My mooncake tasted a lot like a fig newton, but if you want to celebrate your own Mid-Autumn Festival, there are many many different kinds of mooncakes to try!

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