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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everyone. Welcome back to All About Chinese. This is All About Chinese number 9, All About Chinese Culture. I’m Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), I’m Victor.
Amber: And we’re going to talk today about some traditions, holidays, important dates for Chinese people.
Victor: Yes, there are a lot of very colorful and exciting festivals that Chinese people celebrate.
Amber: Yes, and this is a big bonus to making Chinese your adopted culture is that you get double the holidays, double the festivals.
Victor: We have 5000 years of history, so a lot of holidays accumulate from that period of time, yes.
Amber: It’s so true. So we’re going to learn today about five holidays that are very near and dear to the hearts of Chinese people.

Lesson focus

Victor: First and foremost one is very obvious.
Amber: Which is... is it your favorite Victor?
Victor: My favorite. It’s the very famous Spring Festival.
Amber: A.K.A. I think the more common term people know is Chinese New Year.
Victor: Or the Lunar New Year, some people say that.
Amber: How do you say that in Chinese, Victor?
Victor: It’s 春节 (chūnjié), literally means “spring festival”, 春节 (chūnjié).
Amber: Ok, now, if a festival’s importance, Victor, could be measured by the decibels of noise, it produces, Chinese New Year definitely would be a shoo in for the winner.
Victor: Definitely. We always welcome Chinese New Year with food, family gatherings, and lots and lots of fireworks.
Amber: Yeah. And, in fact, if anyone has ever spent a Chinese New Year in China, they can attest to the fact… it’s unbelievable, Victor.
Victor: It’s unbelievable and it’s very, very fun.
Amber: All night, 3 in the morning, unceasing fireworks for days on ends. And people will shoot the fireworks from their apartment building balcony. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes they go into someone else’s apartment. It’s crazy.
Victor: It’s kind of crazy, but it’s a lot of fun. Definitely a great time to spend in China.
Amber: Yeah. One thing to know is that Chinese New Year is not celebrated on January 1st, right? It’s not like our New Year.
Victor: It’s based on the Chinese or the Lunar calendar, so it falls on different dates each year. Usually between January 21st and February 20th.
Amber: Yeah, and Chinese New Year also observed in other countries too as a public holiday when there’s a Chinese population, right?
Victor: Yes.
Amber: So generally people in China, I know, will get a three to five day holiday from work to celebrate. Which is why I am a firm believer in adopting other cultures, because I want the more holidays.
Victor: You’re right. We definitely need a lot of days off for these Chinese holidays because Chinese people will travel back to their home towns and villages to spend holidays with their families.
Amber: Yeah, it’s very important. And you can see it, that time of year in China, the trains, busses, planes, they’re all packed with the people, migrant workers who are working in the city.
Victor: Yeah, sometimes they take train rides of more than 36 hours without a seat.
Amber: Yeah, cause it gets so full you can’t necessarily even get a seat. Man, you can see how important this holiday is, because I don’t think I could take a 36 hour train ride for anything. But Chinese people will. So, Victor, there’s so many traditions and rituals that are associated with Chinese New Year. Can you demystify them for us?
Victor: Sure. To be honest, the origins of Chinese New Year go too far back to be certain where the traditions come from.
Amber: See? That’s the problem when you have 5000 years of history.
Victor: Yeah. So we’re left with quite a few legends that offer different explanations. And most of them are about a mythical beast that would terrorize villagers and eat the crops and livestock. And red lanterns, and red scrolls and firecrackers were all used to kind of scare this beast away.
Amber: Ok, well that explains a lot right there. Now we know why the firecrackers are going off.
Victor: Yeah, so whatever the origins, one thing for sure is the Chinese New Year in the past, as well as today, centered around the family.
Amber: Yeah, and I also know, one tradition someone told me is that you wear new clothes, right?
Victor: Yeah, new clothes for New Year.
Amber: And also there’s a lot of red around. The color red.
Victor: It’s a very lucky color. The color red is used in all sorts of decorations for festive holidays and it kind of stands for happiness and good fortune.
Amber: Yeah, and I remember also another thing related to sort of the newness, is that on Chinese New Year, everyone on the street was cleaning their houses in a frenzy, right before I guess it was Chinese New Year’s Eve sort of thing. And I heard something to do with a Kitchen God and he comes and reports to Heaven whether the family was naughty or nice. Something like that?
Victor: Yeah, it’s interesting that you brought it up because the cleaning comes in because family members are supposed to clean up the house while he’s gone and make a fresh start to welcome the God, as well as the new, promising year. It brings me back a lot of memories cause my grandmother used to tell me stories about the Kitchen God when I was a kid, so…
Amber: I thought you were going to say your grandmother would make you clean the house.
Victor: Sometimes, yeah.
Amber: No, you were a little emperor. You didn’t have to, right?
Victor: I’m the good one. I’m exception, yes.
Amber: Yes. We can tell. Ok, so when everyone’s back home with their families, what exactly do you guys do for the holiday now?
Victor: Well, the eve of the New Year is the most strictly observed part of the holiday. A reunion dinner with all the family is a must.
Amber: Yeah, the food, of course. Every Chinese festival has to do with food. So what kinds of things would you guys eat, Victor?
Victor: Well the New Year’s Eve dinner is very sumptuous and traditionally includes chicken and fish.
Amber: Ok.
Victor: Each day of the festival has traditional foods and these can vary from region to region. And the thing is Chinese New Year is just not one day. It kind of expands beyond to almost two weeks.
Amber: You guys know how to milk a holiday, I’ve noticed.
Victor: We definitely do.
Amber: I also heard there’s something special about the dishes names, right?
Victor: Yeah, many of the dishes eaten on these days have names that are homophones for words with positive or lucky connotations.
Amber: Ok, well, all of that’s well and good. But again, like we mentioned, the biggest impression I have of Chinese New Year is the noise. So on Chinese New Year’s Eve, it seems like at midnight the explosions start.
Victor: Yes. And dumplings, in the north, people eat a lot of dumplings. Another really interesting tradition is sometimes people will put coins in certain dumplings. And whoever eats that coin first in the family, that means that person’s going to get rich.
Amber: He’s the luckiest person.
Victor: Yeah, in the New Year.
Amber: Yeah, that’s kind of scary.
Victor: Sometimes put sugar in it without people knowing.
Amber: Like some sort of surprise.
Victor: Yeah, my family does that.
Amber: So it feels like if you ate the coin you’d be the unlucky one. Cause wouldn’t you die?
Victor: No, you spit it out. You don’t actually eat it.
Amber: Oh, I see. Ok.
Victor: So of course, like we said, the holiday doesn’t really end just there. The next morning people often exchange gifts, red envelopes with money in them.
Amber: Yeah, I got 红包 (hóngbāo), the color red envelope. 红包 (hóngbāo).
Victor: Yeah, it’s literally just “red envelope”红包 (hóngbāo)
Amber: And some people have me a 红包 (hóngbāo). I was like, “Man, this is the best holiday ever.” It’s like filled with cash.
Victor: Usually it’s older people give these things to younger ones.
Amber: Yeah, it’s a pretty good present. And then what do you guys do the rest of the time, then? You’re in your hometown?
Victor: We just relax, visit family and friends and wish them luck in the New Year that we call 拜年 (bàinián), literally means just wish people “Happy New Year”.
Amber: Ok, so there’s a couple of greetings. One really famous one is 恭喜发财 (gōngxǐ fācái), right?
Victor: Yes.
Amber: Can you say it for us, Victor?
Victor: 恭喜发财 (gōngxǐ fācái).
Amber: What does that mean?
Victor: “Get rich”. People in Hong King love that stuff. I think it’s mostly a southern thing. And people in Hong Kong and generally in the south love that.
Amber: They love getting rich.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: There’s another one that’s, I’ve heard too, it’s kind of the same as saying “Happy New Year” in English. How do you say that, Victor?
Victor: It’s 新年快乐 (xīnnián kuàilè).
Amber: So 新年 (xīnnián) means “new year” and then 快乐 (kuàilè) means “happy”, right?
Victor: Right so 新年快乐 (xīnnián kuàilè). Although that kind of just means “Happy New Year”, some people say 过年好 (guònián hǎo). That’s also very common.
Amber: This other greeting which means “new year, good”. Like 你好 (nǐ hǎo).
Victor: Like 你好 (nǐ hǎo).
Amber: Which is “hello”.
Victor: So 过年好 (guònián hǎo) it’s “new year, good”.
Amber: That’s easy. Ok, well, you guys are party animals because that’s just the first festival. I think second most important day in China, what do you think? I mean, there’s so many, Victor, but what would you say comes next?
Victor: I will say it’s Moon Festival or the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Amber: Yes, and how do you say that in Chinese?
Victor: 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié).
Amber: 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié).
Victor: 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié).
Amber: Which means 中 (zhōng) is like “middle”, 秋 (qiū) is “autumn”, 节 (jié) is “holiday”.
Victor: Yeah, so 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié).
Amber: Yeah, and this is basically a harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people, right?
Victor: Yeah, it dates back over 3000 years and originates from moon worship in the Shang dynasty.
Amber: So when can we expect the fireworks to start for this holiday?
Victor: Well, see, in this case we usually don’t have the fireworks.
Amber: Yes, they do.
Victor: Really? For 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié)? I’ve never heard of that.
Amber: Oh, my goodness. You’ve got any excuse for fireworks and Chinese people will light fireworks, I promise.
Victor: Really? Ok, maybe I just haven’t seen that.
Amber: They even light fireworks for Western New Year now.
Victor: They do?
Amber: Maybe even Christmas. Cause they like it. At least in China they do.
Victor: so the Mid-Autumn Festival is usually held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar.
Amber: It’s usually mid to late September, right?
Victor: Yeah, it’s the day that coincides with the equinoxes of the solar calendar when the moon is at its fullest and roundest.
Amber: Right. So what do everyday people do to celebrate this holiday?
Victor: Nowadays, this holiday is celebrated with visits to family and friends. It’s like of like Thanksgiving over here, with the gift giving of the traditional food of the holiday, moon cakes.
Amber: Yes, this is the part about the massive moon cake gift exchange.
Victor: Yes, it’s the traditional food of the festival.
Amber: Everybody gives them back and forth, re-gifts them back and forth. Basically they’re like a pastry, which inside has different fillings.
Victor: And it’s always round shaped. Well, most of the time.
Amber: Like the moon.
Victor: Yeah, like the moon, because it represents wholeness, family getting together. That’s what it is.
Amber: Here’s another Chinese holiday that I know is really important, which centers a lot around family and maybe a little bit less around food than the average Chinese holiday, which is the Tomb Sweeping Day.
Victor: Yes, it usually falls around April 5th.
Amber: Right. And how do you say it in Chinese, Victor?
Victor: 清明节 (qīngmíng jié).
Amber: 清明节 (qīngmíng jié).
Victor: 清明节 (qīngmíng jié).
Amber: Basically it means “clean tomb holiday”.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: And so what that involves is it’s a day to remember and honor one’s ancestors at their grave sites, right?
Victor: Yeah. People will visit the graves of their ancestors and clean the tombs, and some people will leave food, tea, wine, chopsticks for the departed.
Amber: Yeah, and sometimes you’ll also see people put willow branches at their doorways this time of year. What’s that for, Victor?
Victor: Yes. They think that willow branches help to ward off the evil spirits that wonder on the holiday. 清明 (qīngmíng).
Amber: Ok, so now for a whole different kind of holiday now. We’ll get to the present. This is, yes, one that also involves firecrackers, but it’s National Day.
Victor: Yes, the National Day.
Amber: In People’s Republic of China.
Victor: October 1st is the National Day in China.
Amber: Yes, so the PRC was founded on October 1st, 1949. And what is this holiday called in Chinese?
Victor: it’s called 国庆 (guóqìng).
Amber: So basically that means “country”…
Victor: Celebration day.
Amber: Holiday.
Victor: Right. And that was the day that chairman Mao stood on top of Tiananmen Square and announced to the people in the world that the new country, PRC, was established.
Amber: So, no wonder, public places like Tiananmen Square are decorated up very festively this time of year. People will go there and gather and they have fireworks and things like that.
Victor: A lot of Chinese flags, portraits of revered leaders like Sun Yat-sen are publicly displayed.
Amber: Yeah, you always see lots of taxis with the red Chinese flag flying out.
Victor: Yeah, it’s very festive. It’s kind of like 4th of July in the US.
Amber: Ok, now another popular holiday for Chinese people that I heard of even before I went to China, it’s kind of popular all over the world now, it’s the Dragon Boat Festival. What’s that called in Chinese?
Victor: It’s called 端午节 (duānwǔ jié) and usually falls sometime in June.
Amber: Yeah, so the 端午 (duānwǔ) festival, the Dragon Boat Festival is supposed to have originated in very ancient China and there’s different theories so old they don’t know exactly how it came about, but nowadays, it involves people racing in these boats and then eating these sticky rice dumplings.
Victor: Right, it’s called 粽子 (zòngzi).
Amber: Yes, I like those.
Victor: Yes, it’s really, really good.
Amber: yeah, they’re kind of like a sticky rice ball filled with pork sometimes or red bean, very glutinous. I like them.
Victor: Yeah, you can get those around that time in China Towns around the world, actually.
Amber: it’s a very ancient holiday that actually recently has been restored as a public holiday in China and it was celebrated for the first time, again, in 2008, as a public holiday.
Victor: Yeah, I think as a public holiday. But traditionally, people have been celebrating the holiday on their own all these years. It’s a very important holiday in China.
Amber: Good excuse for another holiday.
Victor: Yeah, more food.


Amber: Yeah. So, yeah, it’s very unique and interesting. So that was kind of a sampling of all of the main holidays and festivals that China has in store for you if you go there. Hopefully you all get a chance to try some of the glutinous rice balls or the coin-filled dumplings at some point, we hope.
Victor: Yeah, it’s very interesting.
Amber: Yeah, so… it’s just the start of you Chinese journey here, at ChineseClass101.com