Chinese Holidays Explained – How Do Chinese Public Holidays Work?

Chinese Holidays: Chinese Public Holidays 2019/2020

happy spring festival in chinese
Happy Spring Festival in Chinese: 春节快乐

Chinese National Holidays can be very complicated and unpredictable, since a lot of them depend on the dates of the Lunar calendar which changes every year.

There are Chinese holidays, however, that stay the same date every year. Almost making things more complicated…

What’s more, is that when time off work is given but the holiday falls on the weekend, this time will be reimbursed either the week after or the week before.

This mainly affects the two main long holidays Chinese New Year and Chinese Golden Week (National Week).

These Chinese holidays provide Chinese people with 7 days + time off work.

A time they spend with family, friends, and travel. They also spend A LOT of money.

Check out this episode of the Live the Language Podcast to hear more about being in China during their holidays.

To give a helping hand on the somewhat complicated system, we’ve put together a list of the dates for the main Chinese holidays in 2019, as well as the main Chinese holidays in 2020 also.

You can also check out the explanation of what these holidays are about, and what to expect whilst being in China during these holidays.

Chinese Holidays - They can be rather complex!
Chinese Holidays – They can be rather complex!

Chinese Holidays: Major Chinese National Holiday Dates 2019

List of Chinese Holidays in 2019:

Chinese Holidays: Major Chinese National Holiday Dates 2020

List of Chinese Holidays in 2020:

Chinese Holidays: Chinese National Holiday Dates

New Year’s Day:

chinese holidays hk
Chinese Holidays:
New Year’s in Hong Kong

Not typical of Chinese culture to celebrate this holiday, it is generally treated as a day off work.

However, in big cities such as Beijing or Hong Kong, you can expect to enjoy a big firework display and other such celebrations. Much like in Western culture, families, friends and colleagues will celebrate together to enjoy this national holiday.

Chinese New Year:

chinese holidays
Chinese Holidays:
Chinese New Year

Falling on the 1st day in the 1st Lunar month,  Chinese New Year is usually in January or February. This is China’s largest festival celebrated throughout the country. It is the longest public holiday in China.

Chinese people usually return to their hometowns, meaning large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are often left empty (or at least more empty than usual).

It is typical at these times for people to eat dumplings and spend time with family and extended family.

There are lots of fireworks set off during the lead up to this Chinese national holiday, climaxing on New Year’s Day.

In recent years in the middle of big cities, for example Beijing, the setting off of fireworks has been banned due to noise pollution and safety.

Lantern Festival:

chinese holidays
Chinese Holidays:
Lantern Festival

This Chinese national holiday falls on the 15th day in the 1st Lunar month, usually in February.

Lanterns will be set off and many people go to watch them fly high in the sky. It is traditional for people to eat sticky rice dumplings.

Children go out at night carrying paper lanterns. It is also common that they then solve riddles on the lanterns.

The origin and significance of the festival are unclear as there are many different possible origins and beliefs.

However, the roots most likely date back over 2000 years ago at the time of Buddhism.

Buddhist monks would light lanterns in the temple of the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, and as a result Emperor Ming of Han, the emperor at the time, ordered all the households and temples at the time to do so. From there, it developed into a custom!

Qingming Festival:

chinese holidays
Chinese Holidays:
Qingming Festival

This holiday falls on either Apr. 4th or 5th. It is also known as Tomb-sweeping Day, giving an idea of what people get up to on that day. It is a traditional day to go and visit your family’s ancestors’ tombs.

It is a time spent with family, and people may also go away and go travelling.

May Day:

chinese holidays
Chinese Holidays:
May Day

This Chinese national holiday isn’t celebrated with fireworks or a particular kind of food treat, it’s simply a day off work and a time to relax with friends, colleagues, or family.

It’s China’s Labor Day. People may go to the park to hang out together and have food and drinks, and play games.

It is also common for people to go to the park to have a BBQ or to dance and sing together.

Many Chinese people also choose this day to go shopping – so it’s probably not the best day to pick to buy your groceries!

Dragon Boat Festival:

chinese holidays
Chinese Holidays:
Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat festival in China falls on the 5th day in 5th lunar month, usually in June. This Chinese holiday is to commemorate an ancient Chinese patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC).

On this day, it is traditional to eat Zongzi, a sticky sweet rice triangle snack.

This Chinese holiday is also celebrated by holding boat races in boats shaped like dragons, hence the name.

This is particularly still popular in the South of China.

Mid-Autumn Day:

chinese holidays
Chinese Holidays:
Mid-Autumn Festival

Chinese national holiday Mid-Autumn festival falls on the 15th day in 8th lunar month, usually in September.

Chinese people spend this time with the family, heading back to their hometown if it’s not too far and holding family reunions.

This is the time of year when you will get sick of eating the popular Mid-Autumn Festival snack – the mooncake.

In fact, if you manage to get through the festival without eating any, it’s pretty impressive. They are usually sweet, with a soft pastry outside and a smooth filling. The filling is usually sweet.

However, be warned. There are some weird flavours of mooncakes around, and the amount is increasing every year.

Don’t trust any of your Western friends who give you a mooncake.

Chances are they want to see your reaction whilst biting into a sweet pastry filled with spicy beef, or it’s a cake they received from a Chinese friend that they don’t like the flavour of.

National Day:

chinese holidays
Chinese Holidays: National Day in China\

Golden Week in China is generally celebrated by mass travel. 

Chinese people head back to their hometowns in Chinese New Year fashion or also travel to different popular tourist attractions in China.

Expect mass travelling during this week. So much so, that it’s best to leave the country or keep yourself locked behind closed doors.

If you have time off and wish to travel too, head to smaller cities if you want to stay in China and stay away from major tourist attractions.

For many Chinese people, this is one of the few times a year they can travel and visit different places around the Middle Kingdom.

A trip to the Great Wall at this time will see you in a crowd of thousands of people – unable to see anything but the head in front of you. If you don’t believe us, have a quick Google.

Just don’t do it.

Chinese Holidays: Christmas Day in China

Impressive displays all around China as Christmas approaches
Impressive displays all around China as Christmas approaches

Mainland China doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so there are no Chinese national holidays around the Christmas period. Only Hong Kong and Macao have public holidays for Christmas.

Despite this, the Christmas vibe is big! You’ll find Christmas trees and decorations around all of the shops and shopping centres. Funnily enough sometimes, the following year in perhaps May, you’ll still see Merry Christmas banners still hanging from certain buildings, in true China style!

Shopping becomes particularly popular around this period and retail stores go wild in a bid to get the custom of the Chinese public!

Do shops stay open during Chinese National Holidays?

Yes. In fact, Chinese national holidays are unlike a lot of holidays in the West in that shops and attractions are busier and more open than ever! Many Chinese people travel on Chinese national holidays, especially during the long holidays of National Day and Chinese New Year.

This makes those periods tricky to travel during for Westerners since many tourist attractions are packed with Chinese tourists. Also, prices for food and accommodation get a lot higher. So, it is strongly recommended NOT to travel during these times.

Chinese Holidays Explained – FAQ’s

Do Chinese celebrate Christmas?

No they do not, however despite this, the bigger cities of China will still decorate shopping malls and supermarkets with Christmas Trees and Santa’s.

Although Christmas Day is a working day in China, you will still feel it’s presence somewhat.

Do Chinese celebrate New Years Day?

Generally the New Year celebrations for China come when Chinese New Year arrives in January/February (1st day of the Lunar Calendar). The international New Year is much less significant in China.

What is the most important holiday in China?

Chinese New Year is always the most important. All Chinese return home to their families and celebrate for the holiday which extends to 7 days using the Chinese holiday system.

Golden Week (October 1st-7th) is another important holiday but this is widely used to travel with family/friends instead of going home.

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