Traditional Chinese festivals predate Christ. People in ancient times celebrated certain days marked on the lunar calendar, such as Chinese New Year, Moon Festival, and Double Nine Festival. There are also days commemorating historical moments such as the 2-28 incident, Double 10 Day and Constitution Day. Although some ritual customs have been lost, most were passed down through generations.
Over 2000 years later, cultures have dramatically developed, technology has increasingly advanced, and values of the teenagers shift almost daily. Globalization has ensured a major influence of western (especially American) culture in Taiwan and teenagers are particularly susceptible. These changes might make people think that the majority of the youth will not attend Chinese festivals, but this is not the case.
A survey was conducted in a major high school in Taichung to establish what holidays are still important to teenagers. Almost 90% of respondents stated that they celebrate them with their family- but for all the wrong reasons.
Take Chinese New Year for example: 60 percent of the surveyed students think that “New Year is all about getting the red envelope money and having fun with my cousins,” as Eric Hung said, a 9th grade student, reflecting the attitude of the majority. However, the real story behind this tradition not only consists of taking a break and getting richer, but was originally intended to celebrate the exclusion of a horrible monster. Mesmerizing as the legend is, teenagers seem to have forgotten about the true meaning behind Chinese New Year, and instead concentrate on cash.
What’s more concerning is that, they think the same way towards just about every other traditional festival. “Moon Festival is awesome! We get to have barbeque and eat moon cakes; the best part is that we get to have loads of fun.” said Tina Wang, also a student in 9th grade. Families get together because a full moon represents “reunion” in Chinese. Also, people eat round moon cakes that also symbolize family gatherings. The barbeque part, however, has nothing to do with the original ceremony
Although the new generation seems to forget the real meaning behind traditional festivals, the elders have not because “it reminds us of Chinese history and connects us with our ancestors.” said Amy Lin, a Chinese teacher at the school.
Why are Taiwanese teenagers there for the fun alone? Ms Lin hypothesizes that most of the students are working too hard in school to have their own free time so, as a result, they use the festival holidays to play computer games, go shopping, and hang out with friends. If only the “tradition” of holiday fun gets passed down from generation, more of the ancient rituals will be forgotten.
Luckily, there are a few who actually know the story behind a festival and celebrate it with a grateful heart. Sabrina Su loves celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival because of the beautiful story behind it. She thinks about about “…how Qu Yuan loved his country and jumped down the Miluo River when he couldn’t do anything to protect his home,” while she makes rice dumplings (zhongzi) for the day. Sabrina sets a perfect example for everyone; we should learn the true meaning behind each festival. Not only should we have fun during the holidays, we should also remember our very rich heritage.
Chinese New Year
In the ancient times, our ancestors were threatened by a foul beast called “Nian”. It was as strong as a lion and as big as an elephant. People were afraid of it because it would hunt villagers and eat them. After many years of being harassed, the people eventually discovered Nian’s weaknesses. It was scared of the red color, firelights and loud noises. One year the villagers waited until Nian came out to hunt and pasted red paper on their doors, lit candle lights, and banged as loud as they could on pots and pans. The monster was scared and ran back to the mountains – the villagers never saw it again. To celebrate their victory, the people gathered together the next day and celebrate with food and wine. This is why everyone plays with fire crackles on New Year’s Eve, and why children receive red envelopes, so they would be safe and protected from the monster Nian.
The Moon Festival
The Moon Festival actually derived from a legendary story. Back in ancient times, the sky had ten suns all at once. People were dying from lack of water and crops, but a hero named Houyi arrived just in time and shot down nine suns with his bow and arrows. The farmers were grateful, and the villagers respected him and also his wife, Chang’e. One day, Houyi met a woman who gave him a medicine that grants eternal life to whoever consumes it. He hid it well in his house with Chang’e to protect it, but a burglar came and threatened her to give it to him. Out of desperation, Chang’e swallowed the medicine, descended to the moon and became a celestial. Houyi was overwhelmed with grief, and often worshipped and prayed on the full moon for Chang’e’s safety. This is the beginning of the Moon Festival
許\u22810 多受訪者表示，過年最重要的就是拿紅包和吃糖果，而慶祝中秋節只是為了要烤肉和吃月餅，並沒有其他的意義。有一位老師猜測，會發生這樣的狀況，可能是因為學生平時功\u-30030 課繁忙，並無太多休息時間，所以只好利用節日來盡情玩樂，進而忘記了真正的祭拜習俗。不管怎麼樣，我們還是必須了解各個節慶的意涵，才能把歷史悠久的中國文化傳承下去。
AUTHORS: Annie Chang & Kelly Kuo
Grade 9 students, GCP, Mingdao High School
PUBLISHED: GuanXi #1 – Summer 2010