An Autumn Filled with Chinese Celebrations

The translation industry encompasses a vast array of disciplines and services, two main ones being localisation and transcreation. Much more in-depth than a simple word-for-word translation, localisation and transcreation rely heavily on the mastery of the target audience’s culture and customs, in order to convey a message tailored to a specific group of people.

With that in mind, it is often important for many linguists to be familiar with other people’s cultures. 

Here at ICS-translate, Mandarin Chinese is one of our most requested languages to work with, and in this article, we wanted to focus on two main celebrations the country has to offer: the Moon festival and the Chinese National holiday. So in an effort to brush up on our knowledge of Chinese holidays, come along as we dive into these two very special celebrations.

The Moon Festival

It’s no surprise that China, the fourth largest country in the world by land area, and one of the oldest whose history is as rich and varied as it is ancient, would have important traditions celebrated through the ages.

One such celebration is more commonly known in English as the Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival, and locally referred to as 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié). This holiday, which as the name suggests is deeply linked to the moon, is celebrated each year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. 

Born from the myth of two star crossed lovers unable to live together on Earth, it soon became one of the most important holidays of the year in the country. According to the legend, Chang’e (willingly or not depending on the version) drinks an elixir which makes her immortal. As a result, she flies to the Moon where she is to spend all eternity with a rabbit as her sole companion. Separated from her lover Houyi who stayed on Earth, she mourns the loss of her beloved.

Perhaps it’s this sense of attachment and affection from the legend that still gives so much meaning to the holiday today.

Chinese people normally get to enjoy 3 bank holidays for the Mid-Autumn festival, allowing them to journey across the country to reunite with their family. Traditionally, family members gather on this occasion for a sumptuous meal where crab is often on the table. Another notable dish typically eaten for the festival is the treat known as a mooncake, a round pastry adorned with detailed decorations and often filled, amongst other things, with red bean paste.

Mooncakes, served with tea.

As is customary at this time of year, friends and families may be found watching the moon glow in the starry night, meant to be at its fullest and brightest during the festival. The date of this festival closely follows the lunar calendar so that it falls every year on the day of the solstice. The perfectly round and bright orb in the night sky is viewed by many as a symbol of unity and harmony among families.

Chinese National Holiday

Fast forwarding to a few days later, on October 1 to be precise, let’s now put our focus on a second big holiday in China: the National Day of the People’s Republic of China (国庆节; pinyin: guóqìng jié).

Commemorating the formal proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on that same day in 1949, this holiday is a great opportunity for many people to enjoy some time off. After the military parade on Beijing’s Tian An Men square, and the usual flag raising ceremony, the day of historical and political significance is followed by what is known as the “golden week” (or 黄金周 ; huángjīn zhōu), a week-long national holiday, the only time alongside Chinese New Year during which most people can enjoy some time off work. 

Military parade in front of the Forbidden City, Beijing.

Although this naturally leads to hours and sometimes days long traffic jams on the road, many people use the occasion to visit friends and family, or to travel in or out of China. Expect every motorway, every train station, every airport, every tourist attraction or theme park to be packed to the brim for the entire week!

But as lovely and enriching as it is, how does our knowledge of Chinese holidays make us better language specialists? 

Well, language is an ever changing aspect of our lives, some kind of intangible Play Doh we endlessly reshape to help us communicate. And without any historical, social or cultural context, language is but words on a paper that are frozen in time. It is crucial for us to have a better understanding of our neighbour’s day to day life if we want to accurately transcribe concepts that are by definition very foreign to a certain target audience.

So whether it’s a simple translation, a transcreation, a localisation or any other service ICS-translate offers, rest assured that we will always provide a level of care that is second to none.