It’s no secret that Chinese people work incredibly long hours.
Luckily though, there are seven major Chinese holidays which give the locals a much-deserved break.
Each holiday has its own story and traditions, which I’ll share with you below.
1. New Year’s Day
- Chinese name: 元旦 (Yuándàn)
- Date: January 1
- Fixed date: Yes
The first holiday of the year probably needs no explanation, but here I go just in case.
New Year’s Day is celebrated in most parts the world as it marks the start of the Gregorian calendar, and China is no exception.
The first day of January is a public holiday in China, meaning that schools and most companies will have the day off.
Restaurants and shops will usually remain open though. So, while it may not be the huge party you’re used to, it’s still possible to celebrate with a nice meal or a few drinks.
In larger cities, there are firework displays and many hotels host events to see in the New Year.
2. Spring Festival
- Chinese name: 春节 (Chūnjié)
- Date: January or February
- Fixed date: No
Without a doubt, this is the biggest celebration of the year for Chinese people.
The holiday is also known as Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year and all three terms are used interchangeably.
Spring Festival happens around the end of January or start of February, depending on the lunar calendar.
The holiday lasts a week and locals can expect to have this time off from work. Some companies give employees 10 days or even two weeks off!
During this time, Chinese people travel across the country to be reunited with family. In fact, it’s considered to be the largest human migration on earth with around 410 million rail passengers traveling domestically.
This number has increased each year with the exception of 2020 and 2021 when the global pandemic had an impact on the amount of people traveling.
Directly before, during and immediately after Spring Festival, traveling in China can be incredibly difficult. Train and bus tickets sell out very quickly.
If you’re lucky enough to find a plane ticket, expect a steep price increase.
Aside from family reunions, this holiday is marked with big feasts and the giving of red money-filled envelopes.
There are also some weird and wonderful things people do during Chinese New Year which you can read about here.
3. Tomb Sweeping Day
- Chinese name: 清明节 (Qīngmíngjié)
- Date: April 4, 5 or 6
- Fixed date: No
This festival is observed in early April.
Contrary to the name, the festival actually marks the start of farming season and the planting of crops. It’s symbolic of rebirth.
In Mandarin, ‘qing’ means clear and ‘ming’ means bright. However, as the cleaning of tombs and family graves takes place during this time, the name Tomb Sweeping Day is most commonly used to refer to this Chinese holiday.
In Chinese culture, ancestors play a huge role in guiding families and keeping them safe from a realm beyond this one. As people begin to rejuvenate their land and crops, and as nature begins a new cycle of life, it only seems natural to take some time to honor, respect and appreciate the dead.
Fruit and wine is brought to graves as offerings to ancestors. Colorful flowers and decorations are also common sights.
During this Chinese holiday, you’ll generally see family groups gathered around tombs, fondly remembering their loved ones.
But this is not a somber occasion. This is seen more as a celebration of life itself.
4. Labor Day
- Chinese name: 劳动节 (Láodòngjié)
- Date: May 1
- Fixed date: Yes
Sometimes referred to as May Day or even International Workers’ Day, this long weekend celebrates the workers of China.
You might be thinking this holiday sounds a bit familiar, and you would be absolutely right. This public holiday actually originated in Europe in the late 1800s!
Labor Day has changed a lot in structure over the years. Time off has ranged from one day up to one week at points.
Currently, workers in China can expect around three days off (but may have to work on the weekend – more on that below).
Of all the national Chinese holidays, May Day is probably the least special for most people.
5. Dragon Boat Festival
- Chinese name: 端午节 (Duānwǔjié)
- Date: Usually June
- Fixed date: No
This three-day Chinese holiday has an interesting story.
Dragon Boat Festival commemorates Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet and philosopher from the kingdom of Chu. He was born into a noble family and worked his way up through the political ranks, eventually becoming advisor to the king himself.
Qu Yuan proposed many societal reforms, which ultimately failed, and he was eventually exiled from the kingdom. Some versions of the tale suggest that noblemen fabricated stories of Qu Yuan, framing him in a negative light in order to anger the king.
When Qu Yuan’s home state of Chu was invaded, it’s said that he could not bear to live any longer and instead drowned himself in order to end his suffering.
Row boats were sent out to save him, but they were too late.
Zongzi (a traditional snack made of rice) were thrown into the water for the fish so that they would not feed on Qu Yuan’s body.
Now, each year, on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, people remember this great poet by taking part in dragon boat races and eating zongzi.
You can read the full story of Qu Yuan and Dragon Boat Festival here.
6. Mid-Autumn Festival
- Chinese name: 中秋节 (Zhōngqiūjié)
- Date: Usually September
- Fixed date: No
Also known as Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, this is another holiday with an interesting tale behind it.
Celebrated on the 15th day of the eight month of the Chinese lunar calendar, this is the time of year when the moon is supposed to be at its biggest and brightest. Locals will constantly and excitedly remind you to look at the moon around this period.
This is the second biggest holiday in China, after Spring Festival. I suppose you can somewhat view this event like a Chinese Thanksgiving because it’s most definitely a time for family feasts.
Mooncakes are a staple for this holiday. They’re calorific and delicious Chinese pastries usually round or square in shape.
They come with a range of fillings from matcha, to chocolate, to egg yolk, to red bean paste – all of which, in my experience, are delicious accompaniments to the sweetness of the outer pastry casing.
If you enjoy cooking, here’s a simple recipe to make your own mooncakes.
During my time in China, I’ve heard a few variations of the love story upon which this festival is built. The abridged version involves a man, Hou Yi, worshipping the moon, a place to which his wife, Chang’e, had been sent to for eternity after saving the world from evil.
You can read more about this story and Mid-Autumn Festival here.
7. National Day
- Chinese name: 国庆节 (Guóqìngjié)
- Date: October 1-7
- Fixed date: Yes
The final holiday of the year is another long one of around seven days. This one also goes by the name of Golden Week and is all to do with, you guessed it, national pride.
This celebration has fixed dates in October and features many military parades to showcase China’s strength and resilience.
National Day itself is October 1 as this was the day in 1949 that the People’s Republic of China was officially formed. Tiananmen Square in Beijing is the nucleus of this celebration with a three-minute-long flag raising ceremony which attracts thousands of people.
Cities across the country will hold firework displays, light shows and, in more recent times, drone shows which are pretty spectacular to witness.
How Chinese holidays really work
It does seem like Chinese people enjoy a lot of days off, but unfortunately I’m about to burst your bubble.
Some Chinese holidays aren’t as long as they sound. For example, let’s say you’re celebrating National Day.
In theory, you have seven days off. However, to make up for having some time off, you might have to work on the weekend before or after the holiday. So, you may only get three working days off.
The arrangement can differ depending on the employer and even the industry you work in.
Nonsensical? Perhaps. Do people get used to it? After a while, yes, because they have to.
This website lays out the weekends that locals are expected to work to make up some of the lost time.
Other special days in China
International Women’s Day (March 8) – most female workers get a half-day holiday. Many companies will arrange flowers or small gifts for female employees.
Youth Day (May 4) – commemorates the student-led May Fourth Movement of 1919.
International Children’s Day (June 1) – some schools give children a day off. Many attractions such as theme parks will offer discounted or free entry on this day. Local governments may also organize parades or special activities.
Armed Forces Day (August 1) – celebrates the founding of The People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China on this day in 1927.
Do Chinese celebrate Christmas?
Some people do, especially in the big cities. They go shopping and look at the Christmas decorations and lights.
However, Christmas is not a public holiday in China.
(You can read more about Christmas in China here.)
Plan your trip around Chinese holidays
If you’re planning a trip to China, try to avoid traveling during the national Chinese holidays.
This is especially the case for the longer holidays, Chinese New Year and Golden Week, when domestic travel can get quite hectic. Prices for accommodation may also be higher during these periods.
But if your vacation dates are fixed, try to go with the flow and stay out of crowded areas. You’ll definitely have some stories to share when you get back home!
I hope you liked my article about Chinese holidays. You might also like the article about famous Chinese people – how many do you know?