Celebrations change but festivals remain


Editor’s Note: As Valentine’s Day is celebrated on Monday and the Lantern Festival will be celebrated on Tuesday, three scholars share their views on festivals with China Daily.

Would you rather celebrate Valentine’s Day, which falls on a Monday, or Lantern Festival, which falls on a Tuesday?

Many young people may ask themselves “why not both”?

Festivals are social events people have enjoyed since ancient times, when people around the world held group ritual activities to worship their ancestors, pray for good fortune, or celebrate the harvest. In the past, festivals were events celebrated by a community.

Festivals arise from the marking by our ancestors of seasonal changes and astronomical phenomena associated with religious beliefs. In the past, festival activities were always considered to be of great significance. Later festivals were often characterized by carnivals in which some of the original meaning was lost as people gathered to have a good time.

Since industrialization brought much of the world into the modern era, festivals have gradually served to fulfill more secular, social and recreational purposes, and are less closely tied to the forces that our ancestors believed shaped the everyday life and people’s fortunes.

Nowadays, among the festivals celebrated in China, there are specific days that honor particular social groups or professions, such as National Day, Teachers’ Day and Women’s Day, and secular festivals, such as the Spring Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and Midday. Autumn Festival, whose origins date back thousands of years and are now celebrated as national holidays.

There are other festivals that people celebrate to varying degrees, such as Qixi, which is Chinese Valentine’s Day, and the Chongyang or Double Ninth Festival, the festival of longevity, as well as many festivals of regional ethnic groups .

All these festivals break up the daily routine and inject vitality into people’s lives.

In modern times, some Western holidays, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, although not public holidays, are enjoyed by young people and have become ” new celebrations” in Chinese society.

In fact, Christmas in China is more a day of fun, friendship and tenderness than a religious holiday. Malls and entertainment venues in major cities are full of Christmas elements, such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus and Christmas carols, while Halloween is celebrated by young revelers who like to wear fancy costumes to the occasion.

But in general, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are the most popular western holidays in China.

Valentine’s Day, closely linked to fashion and consumption, is widely celebrated by young people in urban areas. They adopted traditional Western ways of celebrating the day, with couples enjoying a romantic dinner and exchanging gifts, such as flowers, chocolates and jewelry. Valentine’s Day always gives a boost to such consumption.

Moreover, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are accepted by the whole society due to the Chinese culture of filial piety. Many Chinese take this opportunity to show their gratitude to their parents by sending gifts or having a meal together.

Cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world allow many Chinese people to accept foreign festivals, which in turn enrich their daily lives. Meanwhile, the introduction and acceptance of foreign festivals reveals the inclusiveness and vitality of Chinese civilization.

However, while acknowledging the positive contributions that these adopted overseas festivals make to cultural exchanges between China and other countries, it should be recognized that the values ​​of these overseas festivals may be different from those embodied in traditional Chinese culture.

In this context, the authorities can play a role by strengthening the preservation and promotion of traditional Chinese festivals and preventing the commercial opportunities presented by Western festivals from giving them undue importance.

Traditional Chinese festivals reflect the culture and traditional values ​​of the modern era. The country must not let young people forget the traditional values ​​they celebrate.

Compared to foreign festivals, Chinese festivals focus more on the family and are characterized by different generations of a family celebrating them together.

Take the Spring Festival, China’s most important festival, which took place on February 1 this year. The festival is associated with several customs. During the seven-day holiday, people gather for an annual family reunion dinner, carefully clean their homes, and decorate windows and doors with red cut papers and couplets that display the charm of traditional culture.

According to official data, more than 90 million passenger trips were made on China’s railways from Jan. 17 to Feb. 2, the first 17 days of the Spring Festival travel rush this year. In fact, the festival resulted in billions of passenger trips every year before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Traditional culture is a key element that can help finally realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation. It is very important for the country to energize its traditional festivals and culture, strengthen international cultural communication and improve cultural attractiveness.

Opinions do not necessarily represent those of China Daily.

The author is a researcher at the Chinese National Center for Cultural Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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