Tag Archives: Chinese holidays


It turns out that this year Easter was followed by 清明节 Tomb Sweeping Day. While riding the bus back from Easter fellowship last week, I had the opportunity to talk with a good Chinese friend about this.

It’s interesting to see these two holidays back to back. On the surface, these two spring holidays seem to have something in common. They both involve something related to tombs, right? But in one, they sweep and clean off the still-full tombs. The other, we remember the empty tomb! One is full of mournful remembering, solemn processions, and the giving of paper money and food to the dead. The other is full of joy and song, feasting, and is all about the resurrection!

[On Tomb Sweeping Day in Harbin, you see carts of paper money for the dead being sold throughout the city]

[On the evening of Tomb Sweeping Day, people burn the money on street corners to remember those who have passed away. The origin behind burning money is so that those in the other world will have money to use.]


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Eating Pig’s Head Meat:
I had a casual lunch with the head English teacher this past Wednesday. It also happened to be “Dragon Head-Raising Day,” the second day of the second month after Lunar New Year. After telling me it was a holiday, she told me I should get my hair cut or get it washed at a salon. (But I washed it this morning!) Then, she explained how it’s the tradition not to cut your hair from New Years until this day and how when you do it’ll bring you luck. I opted out of this one, since my hair was neither long nor dirty, nor do I depend on luck. This is also the day that people traditionally eat pig’s head meat. So of course, one of our dishes at lunch was a spicy cucumber and pig’s head meat salad. Quite tasty! I liked it better than the pig’s ears I had over Spring Festival. Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of this!

And Birthday Cake, too:
And yesterday, we had a little surprise party for one of the foreign teachers.

For the party, some friends and I baked a chocolate cake. Sadly, the girls that helped me couldn’t make the party and though I saved them a piece, the cake went moldy surprisingly quickly and they never got a taste of the first cake they ever made! 😦

Signs of Spring:
Speaking of things going moldy, Spring is on the way! How can I tell? Well, it’s coming through one of the corners of my ceiling. There was more snow than normal this year and it was an extremely cold winter (this is what the Harbin native’s are saying), so a lot of people in my neighborhood who live on the top floor like me are in a similar situation. Thankfully, it’s in the room that I only used for my office and I’ve been able to move my office stuff to the room I was using as just my bedroom. I actually like my new set-up, it’s cozy and it’s made me more productive! Would’ve thought I’d be thankful for a wet, moldy ceiling, but in more than one way, I am!

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What foods did they make for New Year?
饺子 (Jiaozi) Boiled dumplings filled with pork, mushrooms, and nuts.
They really were the best dumplings I have EVER had. We ate these New Years morning for breakfast, steaming hot, a huge bowl full. And I had an even bigger bowl of them on the morning I left, because her mom found out I liked them so much.
汤圆 (Tangyuan) Sweet rice flour dumplings filled with peanuts, sesame seeds and sugar.
Her dad made these. We ate them New Years Eve while watching the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. Below is a picture of the filling before it’s lightly tossed in rice flour and boiled. Yum! When I came back to Harbin, I bought some frozen ones, but they’re not as good.

馒头 (Mantou) Lots of steamed buns! Whenever one of their younger relatives brought a gift (a large box of milk or breakfast biscuits or cooking oil) they’d return the gift with a large bag of steamed buns. Some of the buns had red beans in them. All of them were handmade by my friend and her mom.

New Years Eve Dinner was big spread of about 7 or 8 dishes including: pigs ear, preserved yellow eggs, pork with garlic scapes, pickled lotus root, potato and tomato stir fry, another pork dish. In addition to the dishes we also had two kinds of “main food“ 主食 steamed buns and rice porridge. There’s also a fish on the table in this picture, but it disappeared when we actually sat down to eat.

What did her parents think of you? Did they speak any English?
It’s hard to know what her parent’s thought of me because not only did they not speak a word of English, but their native dialect of Chinese was mostly unintelligible to me. Most of the time in Harbin, I can understand 60-80% of what’s being said around me (depending of if I know the context), but down in that area of Henan I could only get about 10-40%. I did learn a few words like “le” is “er” for “two” and well, that’s all I remember. Both of her parents were really patient with me, though, and before I left I was able to have conversations with each of them without assistance from my friend. I hope they liked me!

What kinds of things did you do there?

New Years Eve was spent as most of China spends it: watching fireworks be set off on the street (her dad set off firecrackers and then the neighbors/relatives had some real big fireworks) and watching the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. (My favorite part was the funny sketch about college graduates selling potatoes…I hope this is not the future for my students).

New Years Day my friend, her parents and I took at trip to a local Buddhist mountain and climbed to the top with hordes of people. I never expected to see a temple so packed in this country. Her mother went into each pavilion to burn incense or offer something while the rest of us waited outside and took pictures.

The other days I spent there were passed going around her hometown, visiting her relative’s houses, a bamboo garden, and the downtown shopping area. And one day my friend and I went to a larger city about 30 minutes away to visit the Henan Jiaozuo Film and Television City where they film those TV series like “Three Kingdoms” or other period pieces.

All in all, we really didn’t “do” much, but it was really relaxing just to sit next to the coal stove, eat sunflower seeds, chat, and observe life in “small town” China.

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I’d read about in books

the kitchen god hanging over the one coal stove,

the village that is home to five generations of the same family,

the dense population of Henan that makes the countryside seem like a city,

I’d never seen this China.

I’d heard people talk of

the Shanxi and Henan dialects that my untrained ears can’t understand,

the constant roar or fireworks throughout the night and early morning,

the squeeeeel pop pop pop of children playing with firecrackers in the street,

I’d never seen this 中国。

I’d felt the cold of China’s Siberia yet

I wear all the warm clothes, the same clothes every day, under my down coat,

I borrow my friend’s warmest shoes and wear the same two pairs of wool socks,

I lean closely against the radiator in the evenings and go to bed early so I can bury myself under two heavy comforters,

I 没 seen this 中国。

I’d smelt my share of smells in this part of the world but

the incense at the packed temple on New Years day overwhelmed,

the odor from out back was thankfully too cold to reek too bad,

the dingy gray air filled with coal dust that turned your nose black,

我没 seen this 中国。

I’d eaten these Chinese specialties before, but oh!

delicious dumplings and sweet glutious rice balls from scratch on New Years,

endless plates of sunflower seeds – snacks at each relative’s house,

that huge bowl of dumplings on the morning I left made me full for a whole day,


Google Translation: I have not seen China.


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Before last month,

I’d never been to Henan Province 河南

I’d never been to China’s countryside 农村

I’d never been to a Chinese person’s home 家

I’d never been in China for Spring Festival 春节.

So, when my friend invited me to spend 春节 at her 家 in the 农村 of 河南

I said, Sure!

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