Tag Archives for " Festivals "

Jun 01

Dali’s most important religious festival starts June 6: Photos

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture , Photos

During Raosanling festival in Dali, Yunnan province, people sing and dance, slaughter chickens, and pray in front of epic billows of smoke emanating from the most burning joss paper most tourists will ever see in one place at one time.

Raosanling is a festival of the local Bai ethnicity, who believe in both Buddhism and Benzhu folk religion. It lasts three days and is celebrated at three separate locations nearby Dali Ancient Village: Qingdong temple on the first day, Xizhou the second day, and Majiuyi temple on the third day.

Because it begins on the 23rd day of the 4th lunar month, it starts on June 6 on the Gregorian calendar this year. Here are some photos I took of the first day of Raosanling in 2013:
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Dec 24

The real reason Chinese people eat apples on Christmas Eve

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture , Strange China News

Last night was Christmas Eve in China, so my WeChat account was full of apple emojis and festive messages.

“Don’t you give each other apples on Christmas Eve in America?” multiple friends asked.

That Americans give each other apples on Christmas Eve appears to be a common misperception in China. Although it’s a big tradition in China, many Chinese people don’t even know they invented it.

“Giving apples on Christmas is what kind of a custom?” a questioner asked on Guokr, a Chinese Q-and-A website. Another question asked, “Is eating an apple on Christmas Eve something Chinese people invented? Just because it is homophonic [(in Chinese)]?”

When I first received apples from Chinese people on Christmas Eve in 2014, that’s what I thought, too—that the tradition was because of the homophone sound. “Christmas Eve” translates to ping’an ye (平安夜), which literally means “Peaceful Night” or “Silent Night” (the same as the name of the song in Chinese). Apple is pingguo, and the character is also similar (苹果).
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Jun 08

Why Chinese people drink arsenic on Dragon Boat Festival

By Mitchell Blatt | China

If you are a snake, you must be careful today, the 5th day of the 5th month, because today is Dragon Boat Festival. The festival may be most well-known in the West for the dragon boat races that give it its English name, but there are many lesser-known traditions as well.

Calamus plant is hung on the side of one’s door. Pesticide wine is drank. Children are painted adorned with hanging ornaments. Pictures of Zhong Kui, the king of ghosts, are hung. Tying together these traditions is a belief that they can protect one from evil spirits (including snakes).

Calamus on sale in Nanjing.

Calamus on sale in Nanjing.

Often the Chinese calendar-based festival falls around summer solstice, which is June 20-21, although it came earlier this year. The day is long, and the bugs and snakes are at full force. Realgar wine (雄黃酒, xiónghuángjiǔ), a traditional pesticide in Chinese medicine, is supposed to keep away mosquitos. (In fact, the poisonous element, realgar, is a mild arsenic sulfide mineral, which can be dangerous in excessive consumption.) Children who are too young to drink realgar wine would have an ornament containing realgar and other herbs and have the character for “kind” written on their forehead.

The traditions relating to the use of realgar are not as popular anymore as they once were, but realgar wine did inspire one of China’s greatest folktales and operas, Madame White Snake. A snake who took the form of a woman fell in love with a man at West Lake in Hangzhou and married him, but she was tricked into drinking realgar wine during Dragon Boat Festival and is revealed to be a snake. Madame White Snake eventually is imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda (and later freed) at West Lake, which makes the pagoda a famous tourist sight today. The man she married still loves her, but he has to go through a lot of toil to get her back.

So the moral of the story is don’t drink realgar wine, or your lover might be revealed to be a snake. Best to avoid the hassle, which sounds fine to me, because realgar wine doesn’t sound too appetizing in the first place.

Also, my zodiac sign is a snake.

Apr 05

Dangshan Pear Blossom Festival

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Travel

I celebrated Spring Festival in Dangshan, Anhui province, and last week a friend I met there texted me and asked if I wanted to go back to take in Pear Blossom Festival.

Dangshan pears are a famous local produce. In 2010, Dangshan held its first officially promoted “pear blossom festival” to promote its local produce. While the flowers bloom in spectacular beauty every year, Dangshan also hosts performances, photography competition and events tied to the festival. Still, the main highlight is walking between the trees in the park. While I couldn’t attend this year, Lu Han sent me some photos:
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Apr 22

Happy Festival of Tin Hau’s Birthday!

By Mitchell Blatt | Culture , Travel

It’s Tin Hau’s birthday today in Hong Kong (and everywhere else, even if most people don’t know about it). Unfortunately, I’m in mainland China right now, in one of those places where people don’t know or care about it. But I was in Hong Kong for most of 2013, and let me tell you about Tin Hau.

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Tin Hau (天后 – Mandarin: Tian Hou), known in mainland China as Matsu (媽祖), is a goddess of the sea who is said to protect fisherman and others. There are over 70 Tin Hau temples on Hong Kong, the earliest dating back to 1012 (and later rebuilt) at Joss House Bay.

As legend has it, Tin Hau is the spirit of Lin Moniang, an adept swimmer who would help guide fisherman to shore in bad weather. She was said to have been born on Meizhou Island in Fujian on the 23rd day of the third lunar month in 960. The 23rd day of the third lunar month is today, so Tin Hau is 1,053.

According to Larry Salibra, the CEO of Pay4Bugs, adherents and celebrators were parading down a street in the New Territories all morning, starting at midnight.


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Mitchell Blatt is an intrepid travel writer, and an author of two top China guidebooks, who brings his readers deep into the cultures of the places he explores. Subscribe now to get real stories of real people in real places around the world delivered right to your inbox.