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The general trend in offices – airlines, travel services and the like – is for relative early opening and closing, with long lunch hours. Typical hours are 8-11.30arf1 and 1.30-4.30pm, with a half day on Saturday. Generalization is difficult, though, as there is no real equivalent to the role that Sunday plays in the West as the day of rest. Post and telecommunications offices open daily, often until late at night. Shops, too, nearly all open daily, keeping long, late hours, especially in big cities. Although banks usually close on Sundays – or for the whole weekend – even this not always the case.

Tourist sights such as parks, pagodas and temples open every day, usually between 8am and 5pm and without a lunch break. Most public parks open from about 6am, ready to receive the morning flood of shad­ow boxers. Museums, however, tend to have slightly more restricted hours, includ­ing lunch breaks and one closing day a week, often Monday or Tuesday. If you arrive at an out-of-the-way place that seems to be closed, however, don’t despair – knocking or poking around will often turn up a drowsy doorkeeper. Conversely, you may find other places locked and deserted when they are sup­posed to be open.

Public holidays and festivals

A number of secular public holidays have been celebrated since 1949: offices close on these dates, though many shops will remain open. The most important of these holidays are January 1 (New Year’s Day), May 1 (Labor Day) and October 1 (National Day) – the last two mark the beginning of week­long breaks for many people. There are a few other dates, March 8 (Women’s Day), June 1 (Children’s Day), July 1 (Chinese Communist Party Day) and August 1 (Army Day), which are celebrated by parades and festive activities by the groups concerned. Businesses and offices tend to operate nor­mally on these dates.

The only traditional Chinese festival marked by an official holiday is also the biggest of all, the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, This sees nearly all shops and offices closing down for three days, and a large proportion of the population off work. Even after the third day, offices such as banks may operate on restricted hours until the official end of the holiday period, eleven days later. Other tra­ditional Chinese festivals, such as the Qingming Festival and the Mid-autumn Festival aren’t marked by official holidays, though you may notice a growing tendency for businesses to operate restricted hours at these times.

Most festivals take place according to dates in the Chinese lunar calendar, in which the first day of the month is the time when the moon is at its thinnest, with the full moon marking the middle of the month. So, by the Gregorian calendar, such festi­vals fall on a different day every year. Most festivals celebrate the turning of the sea­sons or propitious dates, such as the eighth day of the eighth month (eight is a lucky number in China), and are times for gift giving, family reunion and feasting. In the countryside, lanterns are lit and fire­crackers (banned in the cities) are set off. It’s always worth visiting temples on festival days, when the air is thick with !license and people queue up to kowtow to altars and play games that bring good fortune, such as trying to hit the temple bell with thrown coins.

Aside from the following national festivals, China’s ethnic groups punctuate the yea with their own ritual observances, and these are detailed in the appropriate chapters in the guide. In Hong Kong all the national Chinese festivals are celebrated.

A holidays and festivals calendar:

  • January/February Spring Festival, Celebrated during the first two weeks of the new lunar year. February Tiancang Festival. On the twentieth day of first lunar month Chinese peasants celebrate Tiancang, or Granary Filing Day in the hope of ensuring a good harvest later in the year.
  • March Guanyin’s Birthday. Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, and probably China’s most popular deity, is celebrated, most colorfully in Taoist temples, on the -nineteenth day of the second lunar month.
  • April 5 Qingming Festival. This festival, also referred as Tomb Sweeping Day, is the time to visit the graves of ancestors and burn ghost money in honor the departed.
  • April 13-15 Water Splashing Festival. Popular in Yunnan Province, Anyone on the streets is fair game for a soaking,
  • May 4 Youth Day. Commemorating the student demonstrators in Tian’anmen square in 1919, which gave rise to the Nationalist “May Fourth Movement”. It’s marked in most cities with flower displays.
  • June 1 Children’s Day. Most schools go on field trips, so if you’re visiting a popular tourist site be prepared for mobs of kids in yellow baseball caps.
  • June/July Dragon-boat Festival. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month dragon-boat races are held in memory of the poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in 280 BC. Some of the most famous venues for this festival in the country are Yueyang in Hunan Province, and Hong Kong . The traditional food to accompany the celebrations is zongzi (lotus-wrapped rice packets).
  • August/September Ghost Festival. The Chinese equivalent of Halloween, this is a time when ghosts from hell are supposed to walk the earth. It’s not celebrated so much as observed; it’s regarded as an inauspicious time to travel, move house or get married.
  • September/October Moon Festival. On the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar the Chinese celebrate the Moon Festival, also known as the Mid-autumn Festival. a time of family reunion that is celebrated with fireworks and lanterns. Moon cakes, containing a rich filling of sugar, lotus-seed paste and walnut, are eaten, and plenty of Maotai is consumed. In Hong Kong, the cakes sometimes contain salted duck egg yolks
  • September/October Double Ninth Festival. Nine is a number associated with yang, or male energy, and on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month such qualities as assertiveness and strength are celebrated. It’s believed to be a good time for the distillation (and consumption) of spirits.
  • September 28 Confucius Festival, The birthday of Confucius is marked by celebrations at all Confucian temples. It’s a good time to visit Qufu, In Shandong Province, when elaborate ceremonies are held in the temple there.
  • October 1 National Day. Everyone has a day off to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic TV even more dire than usual as it’s full of programmes celebrating Party achievements.
  • December 25 Christmas. This is marked as a religious event only by the faithful, but for everyone else it’s an excuse for a feast and a party.