China's festivals follow the traditional lunar calendar, and to increase confusion, some minority calendars operate according to different traditions. For conversion to solar/Gregorian calendar dates, try the website www.est-direct.com/china/lunarcal.php.
The Chinese tourism industry is increasingly inventing festivals to try to boost business. Unless indicated below, be wary of any festival with the word "tourism" in its name, for instance.
For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Spring Festival (Chun Jie), Chinese New Year, nationwide. This is still the occasion for large lion dances and other celebrations in Hong Kong, Macau, and Chinatowns worldwide, but in mainland China it's mainly a time for returning home to feast. Fireworks are now banned in larger cities. Temple fairs have been revived in Beijing, but are mostly fairly low-key shopping opportunities. But in the countryside there's been a gradual revival of stilt-walking and masked processions. Spring Festival is on the day of the first new moon after January 21, and can be no later than February 20. February 14, 2010, and February 3, 2011.
Monlam Festival, throughout the Tibetan world (including at Xia He and Langmu Si). Monasteries are open to all, and there is religious dancing, the offering of torma (butter sculptures), and the "sunning of the Buddha" when a silk painting (thangka) is consecrated and becomes the living Buddha in the minds of believers. Typically, the festival culminates in the parading of the Maitreya Buddha through the town. Fourth to 16th days of the first lunar month (from Feb 18, 2010; from Mar 8, 2011; from Feb 25, 2012). Check dates with Qinghai Mountaineering Association (tel. 0971/823-8877). In Tibet check with Tibet Travel (tel. 0891/681-2516; www.tibettravel.com).
Kurban Bairam (Gu'erbang Jie), nationwide. Also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, this is celebrated by Muslims throughout China. It marks the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice everything to God, even his son Ishmael. Celebrations in Kashgar involve feats of tightrope-walking in the main square and wild dancing outside the Idkah Mosque. The 4-day festival is held 70 days after the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, on the 10th day of the 12th month (Dhul-Hijjah) in the Islamic calendar. It falls on November 7, 2010, and October 28, 2011, and annually shifts backward by 11 days.
Lantern Festival (Deng Jie), Pingyao and Quanzhou. This festival perhaps reached its peak in the late Qing dynasty, when temples, stores, and other public places were hung with fantastically shaped and decorated lanterns, some with figures animated by ingenious mechanisms involving the flow of sand. People paraded through the streets with lightweight lanterns in the shapes of fish, sheep, and so on, and hung lanterns outside their houses, often decorated with riddles. There are some signs of the festival's revival, including at Pingyao in Shanxi Province, and at Quanzhou in Fujian. The festival always falls 15 days after Spring Festival.
Hong Kong Sevens Rugby Tournament, Hong Kong. Known as "The Sevens," this is one of Hong Kong's most popular and one of Asia's largest sporting events, with more than 20 teams from around the world competing for the Cup Championship. Contact the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union at tel. 852/2504 8311 or www.hkrugby.com.hk. Fourth weekend in March.
Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Qingming), Hong Kong and Macau. Another festival frequently observed in Chinese communities overseas, and celebrated in more rural areas of China and in Hong Kong and Macau, Tomb-Sweeping is a family outing on a free day near the festival date. It's a day to honor ancestors by visiting and tidying their graves and making offerings of snacks and alcohol. April 3 to April 5 annually.
Sisters' Meal Festival (Zimeifan Jie), Taijiang, Shidong (Guizhou). Celebrated with lusheng (wind-instrument music) dancing and antiphonal singing, this is one of the prime occasions for young Miao men and women to socialize and find marriage partners. Elaborately dressed Miao women prepare packets of berry-stained glutinous rice to present to suitors. For exact dates, check with CITS Kaili (tel. 0855/822-2506; www.cits-kaili.cn). Fifteenth day of the third lunar month (usually Apr).
Water-Splashing Festival (Poshui Jie), Jinghong, Xishuangbanna. Extremely popular with Chinese tourists, the festive Dai New Year is ushered in with a large market on the first day, dragon-boat races on the second, and copious amounts of water-splashing on the third. Be prepared to get doused, but take heart because the wetter you are, the more luck you'll have. Mid-April.
Luoyang Peony Festival, Luoyang. Over 300 varieties of China's best peonies, first cultivated in Luoyang 1,400 years ago, are on display at the Wangcheng Park (Wangcheng Gongyuan), which is awash in a riot of colors. Two weeks in mid-April.
Weifang International Kite Festival, Weifang. The kite capital of the world hosts the largest kite-flying gala in China, as hundreds of thousands of kite lovers from around the world arrive for several days of competition and demonstrations. Check out www.weifangkite.com for more details. April 20.
Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong. Over 200 films from more than 40 countries are featured at this 2-week event. For more information, call tel. 852/2970 3300; or visit www.hkiff.org.hk. Two weeks in April.
Sanyue Jie (Third Month Fair), Dali. This biggest festival of the Bai people had its origins over 1,000 years ago when Buddhist monks and adherents gathered to celebrate the appearance of Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy) to the Bai. Today's festival has become more secular as the Bai and other minorities from elsewhere in Yunnan gather in the foothills of the Green Mountains (Cang Shan) for 5 days and nights of singing, dancing, wrestling, horse racing, and large-scale trading. Ask CITS for more information on the precise dates (tel. 0872/216-6578). Fifteenth day of the third lunar month (usually mid-Apr or early May).
Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Hong Kong. This weeklong affair on Cheung Chau island is thought to appease restless ghosts and spirits. Originally held to placate the unfortunate souls of those murdered by pirates, it features a street parade of lions and dragons and Chinese opera, as well as floats with children seemingly suspended in the air, held up by cleverly concealed wires. The end of the festival is heralded by three bun-covered scaffolds erected in front of the Pak Tai Temple. These buns supposedly bring good luck to those who receive them. HKTB organizes tours of the parade; call tel. 852/2508 1234. Usually late April or early May, but the exact date is chosen by divination.
Saka Dawa festival is held throughout the Tibetan world, celebrating the life of Buddha. Koras (circuits) of holy lakes, mountains, and buildings are undertaken by the faithful. See the contact info for the Monlam Festival (Jan), above. Eighth to 15th days of the fourth lunar month.
Western Journey Festival (Xiqian Jie) marks the day in 1764 when the Qianlong emperor forced the Xibo people to move from their homeland in Manchuria to Qapqal County (southwest of Yining). Celebrations are marked by the devouring of a whole sheep cooked with coriander, preserved vegetables, and onions. Wrestling, horse riding, and archery contests evoke the Xibo's warrior ancestry. The festival is held on the 18th day of the fourth lunar month (late May to mid-June).
Dragon Boat Festival (Longzhou Jie), Shidong. With over 40,000 celebrants, this Miao minority festival, which bears no relation to the Han Dragon Boat Festival, commemorates the killing of a dragon whose body was divided among several Miao villages. Over the course of 3 days, dragon boat races are held in Shidong, Pingzhai, and Tanglong. For exact dates, check with CITS Kaili (tel. 0855/822-2506; www.cits-kaili.com); Twenty-fourth to 27th day of the fifth lunar month (usually June or early July).
Dragon Boat Races (Tuen Ng Festival), Hong Kong. Races of long, narrow boats, gaily painted and powered by oarsmen who row to the beat of drums, originated in ancient China, where legend held that Qu Yuan, an imperial adviser, drowned himself in a Hunan river to protest government corruption. His faithful followers, wishing to recover his body, supposedly raced out into the river in boats, beating their paddles on the surface of the water and throwing rice to distract water creatures from his body. There are two different races: The biggest is an international competition with 30 teams, held along the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui East; the following weekend, approximately 500 local Hong Kong teams compete, with races held at Stanley, Aberdeen, Chai Wan, Yau Ma Tei, Tai Po, and outlying islands. Contact HKTB at tel. 852/2508-1234. Forthcoming international race dates are June 16, 2010 and June 6, 2011. On the mainland, the festival is still celebrated at places connected with Qu Yuan, such as Zigui, Yichang, and Changsha. Fifth day of the fifth month
Jyekundo Horse Festival, south of Yushu, Qinghai. Khampa nomads gather for a spectacular 10-day celebration involving racing, exhibitions of equestrian skill, and horse trading. Contact Tibetan Connections (tel. 0971/820-3271; ww.tibetanconnections.com) for more details. Starts on July 25.
International Motorcycle Tourism Festival, Yinchuan. People from China and abroad ride/transport their motorcycles to Yinchuan. Motorcycle stunts and contests, exhibitions, and tourism activities (beware the last) make up the core activities. Held sometime between June and September; check with CITS (tel. 0951/671-9792) for exact details.
Lurol Festival, Tongren (Repkong). This marks the Sino-Tibetan peace treaty, signed in A.D. 822, with fertility dances and body piercing in honor of a local mountain deity, and has a pagan feel. Check with Qinghai Mountaineering Association, tel. 0971/823-8877. The 16th day of the sixth lunar month.
Naadam, across Inner Mongolia, including Hohhot (at the racetrack, Saima Chang, and the Hulun Buir Grasslands, outside Manzhouli). The festival features Mongolian wrestling, archery, and horse and camel racing, and occurs when the grasslands turn green. That's usually mid-August, but can be as early as July. Dates differ from place to place, and they don't coincide with (the People's Republic of) Mongolia's Naadam festival, which is tied to their National Day and always occurs from July 11 to July 13. For exact locations and dates contact Hohhot CITS (tel. 0471/680-1710).
Qingdao International Beer Festival, Qingdao. Over a million visitors descend on this seaside resort for its famous annual Bavarian bacchanal, which features everything from beer tasting and drinking contests for adults, to amusement-park rides for kids. Second week of August.
Formula One Racing, Shanghai. Every fall motor-sport fans can catch Formula One drivers zooming around a state-of-the-art track in the Shanghai suburb of Anting. The current contract expires in 2009, but a new deal is expected to secure the China Grand Prix for another five years. September to October.
International Shaolin Martial Arts Festival, Song Shan. Some patience may be necessary to negotiate the crowds of pugilists and Bruce Lee wannabes who show up to trade fists and demonstrate some truly jaw-dropping, gravity-defying martial arts skills. For details, call CITS (tel. 0371/6585-2326). Second week of September.
Mid-Autumn Festival (Tuanyuan Jie) is celebrated in Hong Kong, Macau, and Chinese communities overseas, but in mainland China the last remnant of the festival is the giving and eating of yuebing (moon cakes), circular pies with sweet and extremely fattening fillings. Traditionally it's a time to sit and read poetry under the full moon, but pollution in many areas has made the moon largely invisible. The 15th day of the eighth lunar month (usually Sept).
International Fashion Festival, Dalian. China's most famous fashion event is the Dalian Guoji Fuzhuang Jie. The 2-week gathering of mostly Asian garment producers offers an opening parade, a series of glamorous fashion shows held in the city's best hotels, and the sight of leggy models strutting downtown streets. Mid-September.
Confucius's Birthday, Qufu. China's Great Sage is honored with parades, exhibitions, and musical and dance performances that reenact some of the rites mentioned in the Analects (Lun Yu). If you wish to stay over during this time, book your hotel well in advance as decent accommodations are hard to come by. September 28.
Tsongkapa's Birthday, throughout the Tibetan world. The birthplace of the founder of the Geluk order of Tibetan Buddhism, Kumbum (Ta'er Si) (south of Xining) sees the liveliest festival. Religious dancing, mass chanting, and "sunning the Buddha" can be seen. Check with Kumbum (Ta'er Si; tel. 0971/223-2357). Twentieth to 26th days of the ninth lunar month (late Oct to early Nov).
International Festival of Folk Songs and Folk Arts, Nanning. Many of Guangxi's minorities, including the Zhuang, the Miao, and the Dong, gather for a colorful week of ethnic song and dance performances that some have criticized as being mere "urban reenactments." A visit to a village to see the minorities in their own environment is highly recommended, but if you're short on time, this explosion of song and dance will suffice. Check with CITS (tel. 0771/261-2027. First half of November.
Rozi Heyt (Rouzi Jie or Kaizhai Jie), nationwide. This holiday marks the end of the month-long Fast of Ramadan, and believers are keen for a feast. Presents are exchanged and alms are given to the poor. In Kazakh and Tajik areas this is often celebrated with a "lamb snatching" competition. A dead lamb is contested by two teams mounted on horses or yaks; the winning team succeeds in spiriting the lamb out of reach of their rivals. The festival is held for 4 days after the first sighting of the new moon in the 10th month (Shawwal) of the Islamic calendar. September 11 in 2010, moving backward by about 11 days each year.
Miao New Year Festival, Xinjiang, Langde (Guizhou). The Miao New Year is celebrated with songs, dances, bullfights, and lusheng competitions. For exact dates check with CITS Kaili (tel. 0855/822-2506; www.cits-kaili.com). End of the 10th lunar month (usually Dec).
Ice and Snow Festival, Harbin. Every year, tens of thousands of people travel from as far south as Guangdong and brave freezing cold to see the Ha'erbin Bingxue Jie. The city's streets come alive with elaborate ice sculptures equipped with internal wires that blaze to life at night. Most impressive is the Ice and Snow Palace, a life-size frozen-water mansion with multiple levels. From late December to whenever the ice begins to melt (usually late Feb).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.