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Masked kites | © Will Clayton / Flickr
Masked kites | © Will Clayton / Flickr
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A Year in Beijing in 28 Festivals

Picture of Julianna Tetreault
Contributer
Updated: 8 December 2017
The festival culture in Beijing is one of the things that really makes the city. With well over 20 celebrated annually, the city seems to never sleep – from traditional celebrations to modern festivities, the party never stops. Here’s our breakdown of a year in Beijing festivals.

January

Mid-January – late February: Longqing Gorge Ice Lantern Festival

Taking place just two hours outside of Beijing’s city, the Longqing Gorge Ice Lantern Festival is similar to the ice festival that takes place in the Northern China city, Harbin. During the festival in Beijing, locals celebrate the cold winter season with ice sculptures carved into the shapes of castles, cartoon characters, and traditional Chinese symbols. On top of that, there is also tobogganing and ice sliding available to celebrators. The Longqing Gorge Ice Lantern Festival is the perfect winter family affair.

January, 21 – March, 5: Chinese New Year / Spring Festival

Otherwise known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year occurs annually on the new moon between the January, 21 to February, 20. Chinese New Year’s celebration begins with a reunion meal on New Year’s Eve, where family gathers in a Thanksgiving-like fashion to give thanks and make good wishes for the year to come. Following this, the New Year’s celebration lasts 15 days, which are packed full of tradition and celebration; traditional dances such as the dragon dance are performed and red envelopes are given out. The 15th day is called ‘Lantern Festival,’ which traditionally marks the end of Spring Festival.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year | © angela n. / Flickr

January, 21 – March, 5: Beijing Temple Fair

Occurring during the Spring Festival, the Beijing Temple Fair is a local custom that begins near a temple, hence the name ‘Temple Fair.’ During this time, Beijingers celebrate old traditions through live folk performances, such as the lion dance, tasty Beijing treats, and through the crafting and purchasing of handmade gifts. All-in-all, the Beijing Temple Fair is similar to fairs worldwide – it is a seasonal tradition full of family fun!

February

February, during Spring Festival: People’s Day

Celebrated during Spring Festival, People’s Day, or Renri, celebrates the creation of people. Chinese mythology tells a story about a goddess named Nüwa, who is the creator of humankind. The story says that the creation took seven days, six of which were spent creating animals – first, chickens, then dogs, boars, sheep, cows, and horses; on the seventh day, goddess Nüwa created mankind. The story of human creation is a vital part of Chinese culture, which is why it is celebrated during one of the most important times of the year.

February – early March: Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival occurs on the 15th day of China’s Spring Festival, marking the end of the New Year’s celebrations. During the celebration, lanterns are prevalent everywhere, symbolizing good fortune; in ancient times, the releasing of the paper lamps signified a good start to a new self during the coming year. In the past, Lantern Festival was a time to seek out love, giving it the reputation in many Asian countries as being equivalent to ‘Chinese Valentine’s Day.’ Although this idea is still popular in places such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, Lantern Festival in China is truly about the close New Year’s festivities and the start of a luck-filled year ahead.

Lanterns on the ground
Lanterns on the ground | © Bridget Coila / Flickr

February, 2: Eryueer Festival

Otherwise known as the day that the “dragon raises its head,” Eryueer Festival is a celebration that reflects ancient Chinese culture. Throughout Chinese history, dragons were depicted as royal creatures – they were believed to be deities, and the kings of all species. Dragons were regarded as deities of rain, and ultimately had the power to influence agriculture. With this being said, the day that the dragon raises its head is greatly important to China’s culture because of its historical meaning, making Eryueer Festival the widely recognized holiday that it is.

April

April, 4-5: Qingming Festival

Better known as ‘Tomb Sweeping Day,’ Qingming Festival is a traditional Chinese celebration that is observed on the fourth or fifth of April each year. Qingming Festival commemorates ancestors; Chinese families take the day to visit the burial grounds of their passed loved ones, where they pray to them, leave them offerings, and clean the deceased’s tomb.

April: International Kite Festival

Being one of the most popular Spring celebrations in Beijing, the International Kite Festival is an annual gathering of kite enthusiasts in China’s capital city. The festival takes place every April, drawing thousands of people to festivities. During the International Kite Festival, Beijingers can choose to take part in one or all of the events the celebration has to offer: watching kites fly, learning about how to craft kites, and then crafting them, and of course, flying kites.

April, 8 – May, 7: Beijing College Student Film Festival

Held April through May, the Beijing College Student Film Festival is one of the largest film festivals in all of China. The purpose of the festival is to showcase college student’s films and ultimately award the best ones at the end of the annual celebration. Beijing college students, college staff members, and film reviewers attend each year, making the festival an academic affair unlike others.

May

May, 1-3: Midi Music Festival

Occasionally referred to as ‘Midi Festival,’ the Midi Music Festival is Beijing’s largest rock music celebration. The festival first took the stage in Haidian Park in 1997, and since then it has grown into a massive music gathering; over 50 bands preform live each year, and more than 80,000 people attend the show.

Late May: Intro Music Festival

With well over 20,000 people in attendance, and over 495,000 square feet of partying space, Intro Music Festival is one of China’s largest outdoor music festivals. Held in the 798 Art District in Beijing, the Intro Music Festival provides festival-goers with electronic music from some of the best DJs in the industry, in one of the funkiest venues in the city – an old industrial complex. The festival’s purpose is meant to promote electronic music and digital art in China through the gathering of the people in attendance each year.

Lights on building
Lights on building | © Ryan Raffa / Flickr

Late May – early June: Beijing Daxing Watermelon Festival

This annual festival promotes Beijing’s largest watermelon producer, the Daxing plantations. During this late Spring celebration, watermelon lovers from all over China travel to Beijing to taste and purchase the watermelons that the Daxing plantations have harvested during the growing season. Celebrators also have the choice to compete in the National Watermelon Arena Contest, where participants bring their best watermelons to Daxing to be judged; the largest watermelon is crowned the winner. Among other things, the Beijing Daxing Watermelon Festival also sells local goods, and provides information on modern agriculture to the people in attendance.

June

June, 18: Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival is a celebration that involves eating zongzi and drinking realgar wine with family, as well as racing dragon-shaped boats. The purpose of the holiday is to commemorate deceased minister and poet, Qu Yuan. The story of Qu Yuan goes as follows: Qu Yuan was slandered and banished by the king of the Chu monarch. Out of shame, he drowned himself in the Miluo River; common people in the area saw his body floating and hurried to retrieve him out of the water. When the townspeople failed to save his body from the river, they instead threw rice into the water to save his flesh from being eaten by fish. The story of Qu Yuan sparked the tradition of the rice treats, zongzi, and the festival that people now celebrate today, Dragon Boat Festival.

Dragon boats in action
Dragon boats in action | © Mark Lehmkuhler / Flickr

June – July: Great Wall International Music Academy

Bringing together both Chinese and Western musicians for a month-long event, the Great Wall International Music Academy is a festival celebrating classical music. Musicians that participate in the festival are required to be between the ages of ten and twenty-five, and travel from all edges of the earth to learn and preform in the academy. During this month-long festival, musicians put on concerts throughout Beijing to showcase their musical gifts to locals. The Great Wall International Music Academy is the first of its kind, and is now an extremely distinguished event to be a part of.

August

August (seventh day of the Chinese calendar): Double Seventh Festival

Based on a Chinese myth, Double Seventh Festival, otherwise known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, is a celebration of the meeting of Zhinü and Niulang. The Chinese legend tells a story of a cowherd and weaver maid, whose love was banished. On the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, the two lovers reunited for the day, which is now celebrated as Double Seventh Festival. On the seventh day of the seventh month each year, Chinese couples celebrate the festival with Valentine’s Day activities; gifts are given, dinner plans are made, red roses are everywhere, and love fills Beijing’s air.

August (fifteenth day of Chinese calendar): Ghost Day

Ghost Day is a Buddhist and Taoist-based celebration occurring on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, annually. This festival is meant to recognize deceased ancestors’ spirits, which on Ghost Day, are said to rise from the depths of the underworld. During this time, families satisfy the hungry souls by praying to them, feeding them, giving them drinks, and burning hell money on the streets for them. Members of the family still living during the festival burn incense and light lanterns to help the ghosts find their way back to the underworld; when the lanterns’ candles have blown out, it is said that the spirits have returned to their rightful places of rest, and the festivities come to a close.

Burning papers for the ghosts
Burning papers for the ghosts | © Yan Song / Flickr

September

Mid-September – October: Mid-Autumn Festival / Harvest Moon Festival

Held annually on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Harvest Moon Festival, is an ancient festival that celebrates a completed harvest and full moon with family gatherings, prayers, and reflections on what each family is thankful for. To celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, abundant family dinners, equipped with what feels like never-ending supplies of mooncakes are held, and incense is burned. The festival captures the feeling of fall in a way that other celebrations during the season do not.

Peony Jade 2016 Mooncakes
Peony Jade 2016 Mooncakes | © Soon Koon / Flickr

September 21-23: Beijing Jazz Festival

Founded in 1993, the Beijing Jazz Festival is held annually, outdoors in Beijing’s Hadian Park. The festival draws the attention of jazz musicians worldwide, bringing them to the stages of Beijing’s park. The Beijing Jazz Festival promotes jazz music throughout China, through the gathering of festival-goers and musicians alike.

September: Beijing Pop Festival

Hosted annually in Chaoyang Park, the Beijing Pop Festival is considered to be one of largest music events in all of Asia and was the first music festival to be given a permit by the Ministry of China. Renowned pop and rock artists fly in from all over the world to perform on one of the park’s many stages. Through their attendance, Beijingers promote the future of China’s pop music culture and the festival itself.

September: Beijing Queer Film Festival

Being the first of its kind, the Beijing Queer Film Festival was the first LGBTQ film festival to be established in mainland China. Since 2001, when it was first founded, the film festival has been heavily regulated due to China’s strict censorship laws, but that has not stopped festival-goers from supporting the Beijing Queer Film Festival; after countless short notice cancellations and location changes, the festival’s attendance has continued to stay high, and has been backed by its supporters relentlessly. Still held each year, the Beijing Queer Film Festival promotes Beijing’s LGBTQ community in an artistic way.

End September: Beijing 798 Art Festival

Celebrated annually at the end of each September, the Beijing 798 Art Festival promotes international artistic communication through featured exhibits, art classes, and demonstrations. The festival is held in Beijing’s very own 798 Art District, hence the festival’s name, and is full of creativity and culture; festival-goers get an inside look at some of Beijing’s best galleries and artwork during the celebration.

October

October 1-7: Golden Week

Golden Week is a collection of seven days at the beginning of October that make up a national holiday. Established in 2000, the purpose of Golden Week is to promote tourism throughout China; during Golden Week, China bustles with tourists, and some of the year’s busiest traveling taking place.

October 2-4: Modern Sky Festival

Given its name by the Modern Sky record label, the Modern Sky Festival is an annual rock festival held in Beijing’s Haidian Park. The ever-growing music festival attracts artists worldwide to perform on its stages, as well as thousands of people that come watch.

Music festival, anyone?
Music festival, anyone? | © Free-Photos / Pixabay

October 8-29: Beijing Music Festival

Otherwise known as BMF, the Beijing Music Festival is one of the world’s most renowned music festivals, which is held annually in Beijing. Unlike the city’s other music festivals, BMF is comprised of a variety of genres, ranging from classical to opera. The Beijing Music Festival is an internationally recognized series of over 30 concerts in October by both Chinese and Western musicians. Festival-goers by the thousands celebrate Beijing’s Music Festival annually while watching and listening to the gifted musicians perform.

October: Red Leaf Festival at Fragrant Hill

During the month of October, the leaves at Fragrant Hill in Beijing turn vibrant red, orange, and yellow colors, attracting Beijingers for its picturesque scenery. The Red Leaf Festival at Fragrant Hill is the epitome of a fall festival, promoting the change in season through beautiful walks filled with history.

Autumn leaves
Autumn leaves | © ImageDragon / Pixabay

October: Beijing Chrysanthemum Exhibition

Taking place annually during the fall season, the Beijing Chrysanthemum Exhibition attracts travelers from all over to China to the city to view its beautifully grown chrysanthemums. The chrysanthemum is considered a traditional flower in Chinese culture, and during the fall season it holds great importance.

December

December (twenty-third day of the Chinese calendar): Winter Solstice Festival

Considered to be one of the most important traditional festivals celebrated in China, the Winter Solstice Festival celebrates the arrival of winter. In China, the festival is celebrated through the consumption of dumplings, as well as tangyuan, and the gathering of family members. The Winter Solstice Festival is said to coincide with the yin and yang philosophy of balance, in that the change in daylight during the winter months will bring a positive energy flow. Although based upon ancient tradition, the festival still holds great significance in the Chinese culture, and is widely celebrated.

Mid-December – February 28: Bird’s Nest Ice and Snow Festival

Snow-filled activities bring icy fun to families and friends all over Beijing during the Bird’s Nest Ice and Snow Festival. Hosted in the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium, the Ice and Snow Festival provides winter activities such as ice skating, sledding, and snowy bumper cars to Beijingers. The stadium is turned into a snow-filled playground during the winter months, bringing winter cheer to the city.