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Chinese Holidays

Tour China with the Experts

There are seven official public holidays in China: New Year’s Day, Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, May Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-autumn Day, and National Holiday.

During public holidays, the major travel destinations in China are swarming with native travelers. For this reason many foreign visitors like to avoid traveling to the major cities during these public holidays. The following public holiday calendar can help you plan your China trip.

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What do the Chinese celebrate?

Chinese New Year: also known as the Spring Festival, this 7-day holiday is the biggest event in China.  The next Chinese New Year will fall on February 5 2019 and January 25 in 2020, and according to the ancient Chinese zodiac, 2019 will be the Year of the Pig.  The zodiac is a 12-year cycle of repeating animals, meaning anyone born after the next Chinese New Year will have been born during the Year of the Pig, the same as those born in 2007, 1983, 1971, etc.

Of course, the international new year is observed by the Chinese on January 1.  However, Chinese New Year, is never on a fixed date and is celebrated as those in the US celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas; namely, with sharing a grand meal with family, usually a meal incorporating steamed or braised fish which is meant to represent wishes for plenty in the next year.  You might discover that in northern China, most families like to enjoy dumplings as part of this meal, while in the south families are more fond of rice cakes.  In China, most people will have a week off from work to celebrate New Year’s. 

In China, the streets are adorned with iconic red lanterns and lights in anticipation of New Year’s.  Many families will spend the days and weeks leading up tot he holiday by cleaning their homes and decorating them with red lanterns, Chinese knots, vertical poetry known as Spring Festival Couplets (chunlian), and red paper cut-outs.

Once midnight strikes, much as in the US, the new year is greeted with the loud bang of firecrackers.  Be aware ahead of time: many public buildings and services have reduced hours of operation during this holiday, and many businesses, stores, and restaurants will shut down completely.

Qingming Festival: also called “Pure Brightness Festival” or “Tomb-Sweeping Day,” is usually April 4th or 5th.  The day commemorates the end of cold weather and the beginning of the plowing and sowing season.  People often enjoy the holiday by celebrating outdoors by way of flying kites.  

Tomb-sweeping is an important bittersweet custom during the festival in which the tombs of relatives are cleared of weeds and soil is added as a sign of respect.  The favorite food and drink of the deceased are prepared and sacrificed to them.  Qingming Festival is a unique contrast between celebrating the newness of life as represented by springtime, and honoring those relatives who have past away.

Labor / May Day “Laodong Jie (劳动节)”: this holiday was arguably the most important day in China during the 20th century.  Since then, however, the more traditional holidays like Qingming has regained their prominence, and in 2008, Labor Day was reduced from a 3-day to a single day off.  The holiday is part of the global International Workers’ Day which commemorates the achievements made by workers over the past two centuries.

Most Chinese will celebrate by travelling domestically, meaning bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai will be more crowded.

Dragon Boat Festival: this holiday has been celebrated in China for roughly the last 2,000 years to commemorate Qu Yuan (340 BCE – 287 BCE)

 

English Name Chinese Name Date Legal Days Off 2014 2015 2016 2017
New Years’s Day 元旦 Jan. 1 1 day Jan.1 Jan.1 Jan.1 Jan.1
Spring Festival 春节 1st day of 1st lunar month 3 days 31 Jan.- 6 Feb Feb. 19 - 25  Feb. 8 - 14 Jan. 29 - Feb. 2
Qingming Festival 清明节 Apr. 4 or 5 1 day Apr. 5 - 7 Apr. 4 - 6 Apr. 2 - 4 Apr. 2 - 4
Labor / May Day 劳动节 May 1 1 day May 1 - 3 May 1 - 3 Apr. 30 - May 2 Apr. 29 - May 1
Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 5th of 5th lunar month 1 day May 31 - Jun. 2 Jun. 20 - 22 Jun. 9 - 11 May 30
Mid-Autumn Day 中秋节 Aug. 15 of 8th lunar month 1 day Sept. 6 - 8 Sept. 26 - 28 Sept. 15 - 17 Oct. 4 - 6
National Day 国庆节 Oct. 1 3 days Oct. 1 - 7 Oct. 1 - 7 Oct. 1 - 7 Oct. 1 - 7

Travel Tips During China Holidays

There are two “golden weeks” among China’s holidays, Spring Festival Week and National Holiday Week, which means most people have a week off from work. During this time, domestic visitors are allowed some discretionary travel around China. During these two weeks, most scenic or historical spots will be packed with domestic travelers, and hotels, restaurants and train tickets will be harder to be obtained it is recommended you avoid these two “golden weeks” when you plan your China vacation.