By Emma Marler
The beauty of Chinese ethnic minorities is the variety of their culture. Each of the 56 Chinese ethnic minorities have their own unique traditions and customs. As a visitor, one of the best ways to experience each group’s culture is attending one of their festivals, there are so many of them! Let’s have a look at a few so you can get an idea of how colourful and fun these celebrations are!
Water Splashing Festival
The Dai ethnic people reside in Xishuangbanna, an autonomous province located in Yunnan. According to their own calendar, they celebrate New Year in mid-April for three days. Because the weather is already very warm at that time of year, it is tradition to accompany religious rituals with light-hearted and fun activities.
The first two days of celebration are on the Lancang river. People enjoy watching boat race competitions during the day and make floating lanterns fly in the evening, an old Chinese tradition that sends bad luck away.
On the third day, water splashing actually happens! The Dai put on their best clothes and listen to monks chanting Buddhist scriptures at their local temple. Afterward, the most important ritual of the festival takes place, ‘Bathing the Buddha’, since in Dai culture water symbolises religious purification. After the statue has been soaked with water, everyone else starts splashing each other.
Splashing each other with water is not just good fun, but it is also a way to send good luck and prosperity for the next year.
Sisters’ Meal Festival
The Sisters’ Meal Festival is celebrated by the Miao Hmong ethnic minority in Guizhou province, China. This festival takes place in March and lasts for 3 days. It is considered the oldest Valentine’s day in China. It originated from an old matchmaking legend, according to which a god advised girls to dye rice and offer it to young men in order to find their marriage partners. Girls wear their best embroidered dresses and silver ornaments for the occasion, since the light of the polished material wards off evil spirits.
To this day women still go to the mountains to collect wild flowers in order to dye rice. They wrap the glutinous rice in handkerchiefs or baskets.
When a man approaches them, the girls choose which packet of rice to gift in order to communicate their interest or lack of. If there is a pair of chopsticks or red petal with the rice, it means that the girl wants to marry him. If there is pepper or garlic, it means that the girl is not interested.
The Torch festival is of prime importance for the Yi people. The origin of this festival is not clear. Some scholars believe it was one of the two annual New Year celebrations according to their ten month calendar. Another school of thought traces its origin back to the ancient worship of the Yi towards fire because of its power to repel insects and protect crops.
During the three days of celebrations, if you walk around a Yi village you will see that in front of every house there is a lit up torch, illuminating the streets and creating a magical atmosphere. Young men and women also walk around the fields and place the torches at the four corners of the crops. In the main square a huge bonfire is lit and everyone contributes to igniting it.
Many other activities are also carried out in the daytime. Girls parade in their traditional outfits and yellow umbrellas, whereas men engage in competitions of horse racing, bullfighting, and wrestling.
All these beautiful festivals strengthen the cultural traits of the ethnic minorities and maintains their centenary traditions alive. They are the perfect chance to showcase their identity to the rest of the world!
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