Festivals and celebrations are not numerous in Shanghai, and many are family affairs, but there are some opportunities to mix with the locals at city parks and other locations at annual public events.
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.
Longhua Temple Bell-Ringing. On New Year's Eve in the Gregorian calendar (Dec 31), crowds gather at Longhua Temple to pray for good fortune as the bell is struck 108 times during a special midnight Buddhist service. Fireworks, dragon and lion dances, folk art shows, and music go on into the wee hours.
Spring Festival/Chinese New Year (Chun Jie). This is the time when Chinese return to their hometowns for family get-togethers, to visit friends, to settle the year's debts, to visit temples to pray for prosperity in the coming year, and to decorate their homes with red paper (signifying health and prosperity). Parks and temples hold outdoor celebrations and put on markets, the best places for tourists to visit. Begins the first day of the lunar calendar: February 3, 2011; January 23, 2012.
Lantern Festival (Deng Jie, sometimes called Yuanxiao Jie). On the 15th day after Chinese New Year, on the first full moon, people used to parade through town with paper lanterns, while parks and temples displayed more elaborate and fanciful lanterns, all accompanied by fireworks and folk dances. In Shanghai in recent years, there's been a minor revival of sorts, especially around the Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar, but Shanghainese mostly mark the occasion by eating yuanxiao (glutinous rice balls with sweet stuffing). This always falls 15 days after the Spring Festival.
Guanyin's Birthday. Held on the 19th day of the second lunar month, about 50 days after Chinese New Year, in honor of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, this is a good opportunity to visit one of the Buddhist temples in Shanghai and join in the celebrations.
Shanghai International Literary Festival. Started in 2006 with entirely volunteer help, this festival, which is timed with the Hong Kong Literary Festival to better bring in international authors, is starting to attract a loyal following of bibliophiles. Big names who have held book readings at the Glamour Bar include Booker-prize winners Arundhati Roy and Anne Enright. Local authors are featured as well. Two weekends in early March.
Longhua Temple Fair (Longhua Miaohui). Beginning on the third day of the third lunar month, this 10-day temple fair, featuring an array of vendors, Buddhist worshippers, and local opera performers, dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Typically first or second week of April.
Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qing Ming Jie). This day honors the dead, which in Chinese communities overseas and some rural counties usually entails the sweeping of ancestral graves and the offering of food and wine to the departed. This is now a public holiday. In Shanghai this means crowds of tourists from neighboring regions at the main sights. April 4 (Apr 5 in leap year).
Formula One Grand Prix Racing. It was hoped that this glamorous event, held in the northwestern suburb of Anting, would draw fans from around the world for 3 days of high-speed, high-adrenaline racing featuring the sport's biggest names, but the event has consistently lost money since its Shanghai inaugural in 2004. Although a race is scheduled for 2011, F1's future in Shanghai remains uncertain after that. April.
Labor Day. There's little for the Shanghai tourist to do except shopping, shopping, and more shopping. May 1.
Shanghai Spring International Music Festival. One of many recent festivals instituted by Shanghai, this one usually runs for 2 weeks in mid-May and has attracted such performers as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Choir. It's also when the "Golden Chime" award is given to China's best music DJs.
Shanghai International Film Festival. Scores of international films are screened, providing many Chinese with a chance to see films they would ordinarily not be able to. Foreign films are usually dubbed into Chinese. An international jury judges competition films. This is usually preceded by the Shanghai TV Festival. May/June.
Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie). Traditionally the time to read poetry under the full moon, this festival, also known as the "Mooncake Festival," and primarily celebrated by the eating of "mooncakes," pastries with extremely rich sweet bean filling, is now an official public holiday. During the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), Chinese attempting to revolt against their Mongol rulers sent each other messages hidden inside these cakes. Held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (usually Sept).
Shanghai Biennale. With the art scene thriving in Shanghai, this relatively new festival held every 2 years showcases the works, sometimes highly experimental, of local and international artists at the Shanghai Art Museum and at various galleries and venues throughout the city. Usually October to November, even-numbered years.
Shanghai International Arts Festival. This wide-ranging annual festival features local and international plays, concerts, and music and dance performances at various locations throughout the city. Usually the month of November.
Western Holidays in Shanghai
Christmas has become an increasingly popular holiday in Shanghai, celebrated at hotels and restaurants with large dinner parties. As commercial a holiday as it is in the West, Valentine's Day has caught on with a vengeance, with hotels and international restaurants offering room and dining packages that would have Cupid working overtime. Western New Year's has not caught on to the same extent, although Longhua Temple has become the place to literally ring in the new year. St. Patrick's Day and Halloween are celebrated by locals and expatriates at the cafes, bars, and discos.
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.