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Nanjing Folk Cultures

Traditional Festival Customs

The old saying goes “All fortunes come from the Southeast and gather at a place called Jinling.” As a capital of ten dynasties, Nanjing is the best in the Southeast with integration of urban grandness, deep culture, elegance and heroism.

Spring Festival (Chun Jie)

It is the New Year’s Day which is also called “Guo Nian” when people in Nanjing clean houses, decorate streets with lanterns and colorful hangings, wear new clothes and hats, paste up couplets and light firecrackers.

The doors will be decorated with Spring Festival couplets or Door God. On the first day of the New Year, people will drink Tusu wine. Wang Anshi, prime minister (in feudal China) of Zhijiangningfu (a prefecture), once said in his poem, “One years older in the sound of firecrackers; Spring blowing warmth into the Tusu”. This custom started from the Southern Dynasty. Nanjing people have been drinking the Tusu wine on Spring Festival for thousands of years and formed a set of rules: the family are all facing the East when the sun is rising and start to drink from the youngest to the eldest. It means their life will be getting better and better. Before noon on the New Year’s Day, families and friends will come and wish a Happy New Year. The host and hostess will greet them with hands folded in front and teas and snacks. Besides, guests will get two eggs which looks like shoe-shaped gold ingots and it means fortunes will come.

Now when people meet on Spring Festival, they greet each other with “Congratulations and best wishes for a prosperous New Year” and give each other tea or cigarette as well as delicious snacks.

Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie)

The 15th day of the first lunar month is the first night of a full moon in a year, hence the name “Yuan Ye”. Since “Ye” and “Xiao” have the same meaning in Chinese, it is called “Yuan Xiao”.

The Lantern Festival is developed from sacrificial activities to a grand festival. In ancient times, it only lasted for 1 day; it began to last for 3 days in the Tang Dynasty, from the 16th day of the first lunar month to the 18th; in the Sung Dynasty, it lasted from the 14th to the 18th of the first lunar month; When it came to the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang made it last for 10 days, from the 8th to 18th when the lanterns were off. Foods eaten on the Lantern Festival have changed into the glutinous rice-balls instead of bean porridges. Having glutinous rice-balls when the lanterns are on and having noodles when the lanterns are off is a custom in Nanjing.

In the Ming and Qing Dynasty, Nanjing people will play Loong lanterns and hang up lanterns made of yarn on the Lantern Festival. The length of the Loong lanterns is from 33 meters to hundreds of meters and hundreds of people can play together. As for lanterns made of yarn, famous people draw on them. The better the people’s skills, the higher the price. Lantern riddle-guessing activates are held in front of stores to attract customers. The winner can get an item sold in the store. Besides, a kind of lanterns called “Flying Horse” is created by Nanjing people. The candle inside of the lantern is lighted and the hot air lifts it up. The rotational lantern makes the horses painted on it go whirling wildly ahead. Joseph Lee, British scholar, considers it as one of ancient inventions in China. The grand Loong lanterns and the elegant Yarn lanterns of all kinds attract lots of people coming out and cheer for the festival. “Under the full moon, in the shadow of the silver light, people greeting each other are all for the Lantern Festival.” In recently decades, the Lantern Festival in the Confucius Temple of Nanjing is blooming. Lanterns are made with new techniques, new materials and controlled by sound or light, very vivid and fantastic. It starts on Spring Festival and last for one month, during which it attracts 200,000 to 300,000 tourists worldwide every day.

Key Words

Tea   West Lake   

Temple      Su Dongpo 


Fans   Embroidery


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