In China, the 55 ethnic minorities comprise approximately 8.5% of the whole population and have rich cultural customs that celebrate their diversity and tradition. Despite being such a small percentage of the Chinese population, they usually live in smaller communities and place much importance in maintaining their cultural heritage and customs alive. This means that they have many fascinating and meaningful celebrations that bring the community together.
One of the main ways of celebrating and promoting tradition is through festivals. This blog talks about some of the most renown festivals that some ethnic minorities celebrate. They inevitably attract many tourists as it is a privilege to experience them in person and are charged with tradition, cultural heritage and customs. However, even reading about these festivals can help you understand and learn a bit about the rich cultures of some of these ethnic minorities.
Ethnic Miao Group’s New Year Festival
First on the list is the most important festival of the year for the ethnic Miao people. This is the celebration of the beginning of a new year and unlike most Western cultures, where New Year’s day is always celebrated on the same day, this festival varies depending on the year and region. The exact dates are only disclosed a few months before so if you are interested in experiencing the festival yourself you may celebrate New Year’s day twice that year as the festival is usually celebrated around November! This festival is remarkable to see, so if you’re up for it, the grandest celebration occurs in the Leishan County in the Guizhou Province where it is recommended for tourists.
The Miao people dedicate this festival to celebrate the harvest of rice and so the star drink in this festival is traditional rice wine made from the harvest. A key element of the festival is to worship the ancestors by offering them fruit and meat in sign of remembrance and respect. One of the most characteristic customs is the traditional dances and music of the Miao people. These dances and parades are usually accompanied by a traditional musical instrument made from bamboo, the Lusheng, and young children dance to this music whilst dressed in their traditional magnificent costumes all covered in grand silver ornamentation. One of the most significant activities of the festival is bullfighting as it is a traditional event for Miao people.
Tibetan Shoton Festival
Another completely different festival is the Shoton festival in Tibet, being most known for celebrating by eating yogurt. Yogurt? Yes, you read that right, Shoton literally means yogurt banquet in Tibetan. During the festival, Tibetan artists perform traditional operas, and important monasteries display large Thangkas which are Buddha paintings. The main events during this festival are opera and exhibitions which give this festival its other two known names: “Tibetan Opera Festival” or “Thangka Exhibition Festival”. The festival is held annually in the month of August, or late in the sixth month or early in the seventh month of the Tibetan calendar. On the first day you can see the large Thangka display in Drepung and Sera monastery, as well as Opera dance in Norbulingka park.
Tibetan New Year Festival
This festival is the most famous in the Tibetan calendar as it marks the new year and is normally celebrated for 15 days with the first three days having the main celebrations. It consists of ancient ceremonies representing the struggle between good and evil, which are characterized by chanting, and by passing fire torches through the crowds. On New Year’s Eve, people visit the monasteries and donate money to the monks. On New Year’s Day, Tibetans get up early, early and start a praying ceremony in their home where they worship the gods by placing offerings in the front of their household shrines. After that, they have a reunion dinner with traditional cake called Kapse and chang, an alcoholic beverage, and family members exchange gifts.
Water Splashing Festival of the Dai Ethnic people
This festival also celebrates the New Year for the Dai people who live in the DeShong area of Xishuangbana in the Yunnan Province in southwest China. It is called the water-splashing festival since it is characterized by splashing water onto one another as a symbol of holiness and religious purity but also goodwill among people.
The Dai people use the New Year to send off the old or past and invite the new year and future to come. It involves three days of celebrations that include light-hearted religious rituals, the main one being water-splashing. Water splashing is central to all because water, the symbol of holiness, goodness and purity, is the most precious thing to the Dai. Men and women gather in the roads or public parks to take part in a group spree of water with buckets and basins of water. When splashing another this wishes them good luck and a happy new year.
Sisters’ Meal Festival of the Miao ethnic people
The Sisters’ Meal Festival is celebrated by the Miao people especially in Taijing and Jianhe counties. This festival is regarded as the oldest Asian Valentine’s Day since it also celebrates Spring and this is a time where young singles are hopeful to meet their partner. The festival consists of a Sister’s Meal that young women have prepared with a traditional “sister’s rice” they have dyed with natural colors from wildflowers and leaves collected in the mountains. During the festival, the Miao girls dress up in their finest, beautifully elaborate silver celebration headdresses, neck chains and crowns. They then gather by the riverbanks and prepare the special “sister’s rice” which they will offer the young men soon to arrive. The men will sing to those women they are interested in marrying and the women will offer them the “Sister’s Meal” in response to their chants which consists of a drink of rice wine and the sister’s rice which is usually wrapped in a handkerchief decorated with symbols. When the young men arrive they begin to single out the women they hope to marry someday and begin to sing for them. The young women respond to their songs by giving them a drink of rice wine and the sisters’ rice wrapped in handkerchiefs with different symbols.
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