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12 Fascinating Ethnic Festivals in China

Ethnic Groups in China are an inalienable part of China. Some of the minorities even have a history as long as that of Han people. The ethnic festivals are like the living fossils to reveal their history, lifestyles and culture. Although the date, celebrations, and purpose of the festivals may differ, those festivals and holidays together became a culture phenomenon deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Let's discover 12 most fascinating ethnic festivals in China!

1.Water Splashing Festival (Dai)

The Water Splashing Festival is the grandest festival for Dai people. It's usually in the middle of April, which is also the first month of Dai calendar. Therefore, the Water Splashing Festival is also the New Year Festival for Dai people. It's customary that people splash water to the Buddhist statues and to each other. The more splash you get, the more blessings you get. There is a beautiful legend about the origin of the Water Splashing Festival. It's said that a devil used to badger with the seven beautiful goddesses and he released fire to burn the them. The fire was so big and uncontrollable that it was spread into the mortal world and continued to burn for 999 days before Dai people finally extinguish it. To memorize these seven brave goddesses, Dai people splash water to each other in hope of putting out the evil fire of each other, washing off the fatigue and dirt of last year and offering blessings.

2.Nadaam Festival (Inner Mongolia)

The Nadam Festival is the most important festival for Mongolian people living in the Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qianghai, and Xinjiang areas. It's held in the late Summer and early Autumn when the weather is most promising and the festival lasts for about a week. Nadam in Mongolian language means "game", therefore, the festival is more of a entertainment holiday when many kinds of traditional Mongolian sports were performed. In the past, a large-scale of sacrificial rituals were a must during the Nadam festival. Nowadays, the programs of the Nadam are mostly sports including wrestling, horse racing, archery competition, lassoing, and Mongolian chess. In some places, track and field sports, volleyball, basketball, tug of war, as well as many spectacular performances like martial art, polo, and horse riding were also played.

3.Torch Festival (Yi)

Torch Festival is the shared festival for several minority groups in Yunnan province, but the grandest Torch Festival is held in Yi people. It’s usually around the June 24/25th of Chinese lunar calender. The Torch Festival was originally a pure sacrificial activity for Yi and Bai ancestors to offer sacrifice and pray for good harvest in the next year. At the night of the Torch Festival, a large torch with a height of 3 meters will be set up and people from neighboring villages will come and place their own small torch around the big torch, signaling their willingness to work together. People will wear festive costumes, sing and dance around the torch all night. There are other some activities just for men including the wrestling, horse racing, bullfight, goat-fight and pole climbing. While women mostly sing, dance and offer toasts to men.

4.Tibetan New Year (Zang)

Tibetan Spring Festival is the most important folk festival for Tibetan people. People in different parts of Tibet celebrate the New Year in slightly different times, but mostly it’s in Jan.1st of the Tibetan calendar. Like the Chinese New Year Festival customs, Tibetans clean their houses before the New Year’s Eve and hold a ceremonious Tiao Shen Hui (Party of Sorcerer Dancing) at the day before the New Year's Day. People wear gorgeous traditional costumes, wear grotesque masks, and sing and dance with the accompaniment of the instruments like conch, drums and suona. In the New Year’s Eve, people will have a feast of pancakes, milk cakes, sausage, and meat. In the morning of the New Year’s Day, women will go to the river or well to carry the "auspicious water", wishing their families to have a auspicious year. Then, they will place a tribute of painted  rectangular plate filled with grains and pastries on a big red table and give toasts and Hada and express their blessings at the table. During the Tibetan New Year Festival, people also pay visits to their friends and relatives. They also change the colourful prayer flags on their roofs to wish for a good new year.

5.Double Third Festival (Zhuang)

Double Third Festival, also called the Singing Festival, is one of the grandest festivals in Zhuang people. At the festival, there will be a grand Folk Song Fair. People from neighboring communities will come together and sing. Young men and women can have a antiphonal singing. If they like each other, colored eggs are exchanged as a love token. There are also other activities like throwing an embroidered ball (the boy who caught the ball threw by the girl often expected to ask the girl out) and touching the colored eggs. Besides, a kind of five-colored glutinous rice is often prepared in hope of bringing luck to people.

6.Lesser Bairam (Hui)

Lesser Bairam is one of the most important festivals in Hui people. Every September of Islamic calender is the month of fast when Hui males over 12 years old and females over 9 abstain from meat, lust, desire, hurt and other things considered inappropriate. It lasts at least 30 days. At the Lesser Bairam, people will clean their house, change clothes and decorate the mosques. Men will go to the local Mosque, offer money to poor people, listen to the imam’s preach, and attend the conference. Women will prepare a grand feast at home. People will also visit each other and give presents and blessings.

7.Miao New Year (Miao)

Miao New Year is the traditional holiday in Miao people. It lasts from September to December. Before the New Year, Miao people will clean their house and prepare a lot of food. At the New Year’s Eve, girls will compete for new water and shoulder silver jewelries, while boys will drive the sheep and cows to the fence, wishing a good harvest in the next year. In the first day of the new year, sacrifices will be offered to the Dragon God. On the second day, parents will send food to their married daughters. After the third day of the new year, Miao people of the same village will come together and visit another village for 3 days. Together, they will have many interesting activities like horse fighting, bird fighting, bull fighting, singing competition, wrestling and many others. Young men and women often sing together and look for their ideal partners at the occasion.

8.Banjin Festival (Manchu)

Banjin Festival is a holiday to celebrate the establishment of Manchu nationality. On October 13th, 1625, of lunar calendar, Emperor Hongtaiji issued an decree officially changing the name of the nationality from "Nvzhen" to Manchuria, marking the founding of a new nationality. In October 1989, the date Dec.3 was set up to celebrate the "Banjin Festival". Manchu people also hold grand ceremonies to celebrate the naming date of the Manchu on lunar Oct.13th.

9.Panwang Festival (Yao)

According to the folk legend in Jianghua Yao people in Hunan, in ancient times, Yao people suffered for 49 days on the sea and it was King Pan who smoothed the waves and helped them to get to the shore on Oct. 16th, which happened to be his birthday. To express their gratitude, Yao people made glutinous rice cake and celebrated the King Pan’s birthday by singing and dancing for him. Since then, Oct.16th became an important date for Yao people. Besides food, singing and dancing, Yao people also play long drums during the celebration. It’s said that Yao people was exploited and oppressed by officials after the death of King Pan, and Yao people wanted justice from the Jade Emperor. However, they can’t get the message to the Jade Emperor without being discovered by the officials. Therefore, Yao people pretended to play the long drums for the Jade Emperor and hid the message inside one drum. Nowadays, playing long drums, singing paeans for King Pan and performing dances are customary parts of the celebration of Panwang Festival.

10.Knife-Pole Festival (Lisu)

The Knife-Pole Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals of Lisu people. There is a beautiful legend that in Ming Dynasty, a minister named Wang Ji was sent to rule Lisu people. He was very generous and enjoyed a great fame among Lisu people. He also led the army to fight against the enemies who trespassed the southwest frontier to harass Lisu people. Unfortunately, the minister Wang Ji who led the army was framed to death by other treacherous ministers. To commemorate Wang Ji and the Lisu warriors died in the battle, Lisu people set the date lunar Feb.8 as the Knife-Pole Festival. On the day before the festival, five sturdy Lisu men will be chosen to jump in the burning flames and pass on fire balls. At the festival, Lisu people will wear traditional costumes and put up a 20m-long ladder made of bamboos and long knives. Brave men will be bare-footed to climb the knife ladder. Not only that, the performers also need to do all kinds of acrobatic movements. When they made to the top of the knife ladder, people will cheer for them and set firecrackers.

11.Adult Ceremony (Jino)

Jino people believe that young people under 15 or 16 are immature both mentally and physiologically. They can't assume obligations and enjoy the rights as grown ups. While after they turned to 15 or 16 they are old enough to be considered as adults. Boys will be taken by surprise to a certain place and have a feast with other men. Then, their parents will offer them a whole set of farming tools, a box with areca-nut, a box with lime, and new clothes embroidered with patterns. The elders will lead people to sing epics and educate the boys about the history of the nationality. While girls just need to be approved by the women's organization and they will also receive farming tools and clothes from their parents. Girls will have much brighter and gorgeous clothes and their hair can only be made into a single braid. Adult Ceremony is a major turning point for girls and boys. After the ceremony, they will be a formal member of the village and have the same responsibilities and rights as adults.

12.March Fair (Bai)

March Fair is a grand gathering for Bai people in Dali. It lasts from Mar.15 to Mar.21. According to legend, the March Fair was modeled after the fairs on the moon that the ancestors of the Dali people dreamed about. Therefore, the March Fair in Dali is also called the Moon Street. During the holiday, there are a variety of stalls selling local snacks and handicrafts, and entertainment activities like lion dance, horse racing, dancing, archery, and dinging. The most fascinating thing about the March Fair is the free market. It's really fun to wander at such a hustling and bustling fair.

Besides the festivals and holidays listed above, there are many other ethnic festivals remain undiscovered by outside world. If you have a chance to visit the ethnic groups in China, it’s highly recommended that you join some of their traditional holidays, you will be amazed!