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Festivals of Chinese Ethnic Minority People

Nadam Fair

Nadam Fair, Mongolia FestivalThe Nadam Fair is a traditional festival celebrated in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the 7th lunar month. Nadam is the Mongolian word for recreation or games. It was first held by the Mongolians in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.--220 A.D.).

The Mongolians are fond of sports activities. They especially like horse racing, wrestling, and archery, which are known as the "three men's events". The Mongolians practically grow up on horseback and horses play an important part in their lives. They are especially fond of horse racing. Before the race begins, an elderly man holds a silver bowl of fresh milk and a blue hada (silk scarf) high, and chants to bless the riders. This ceremony before the race is peculiar to the Mongolian people.

At the beginning of the race, the riders line up in a row, each wearing a colorful belt and turban. According to the rules of the race, riders sit straight and rein in the horse to make it trot at a speed no slower than galloping. After the race, winners receive congratulations and acclaim.

Wrestling is another beloved sports activity. The formal wrestling contest is accompanied by much ceremony. Participants are required to wear a traditional costume which consists of a sleeveless jacket made of leather or canvas, a tri-colored short skirt, a pair of embroidered breeches and high boots. Before the contest, wrestlers perform a dance and sing a song, which says "Send over your brave men, your brave men!" According to traditional rules, when any part of the body above the knee touches the ground, the match is over and the person who touched the ground has lost. The wrestler who wins the first prize gets a strip of colorful cloth pinned on his chest. Archery, the third of the "men's three events," provides a good chance for talented archers to show their skill. Great amusement is derived from this event.

Besides being a sports meeting, Nadam is also a fair. The Mongolians, wearing their holiday best, come to attend the fair from all over Inner Mongolia. Herdsmen and merchants flood the fair to sell their products. Various kinds of merchandise, including fur-lined jackets, robes, leather boots and gold or silver ornaments are for sale. The whole fair is filled with a lively festive atmosphere.


Corban, Muslim FestivalCorban, a festival celebrated by China's Muslims, falls on the l0th day of December in the Islamic calendar. There are ten Islamic ethnic minorities, the Hui, Uygur, Kazaks, Kirgiz, Tajik, Tatars, Uzbek, Dongxiang, Salar, and Bonan. Corban is an Arabic word meaning sacrifice or dedication. It is called the festival of butchering animals and is a day to slaughter animals as an offering. Legend has it that Ibrahim, the Prophet, on his way to Mecca on a pilgrimage received in a dream an order from Allah that he should offer his son Ishmael as a sacrifice. But at the very moment Ibrahim was brandishing a sword to do so, Allah sent an angel, bringing him a sheep and telling him to sacrifice the sheep instead of his son.

On the Eve of the festival, families clean their houses thoroughly and prepare various kinds of food. On the day of the festival Muslims bathe, pray, watch the ceremonial sacrificing of animals, visit and greet their friends and relatives. Customs for celebrating Corban vary widely. Each group has their own distinctive way of celebrating. The Kazaks celebrate the festival with horse riding activities such as the sheep snatching contest and the girl chasing game. The sheep snatching contest is an event in which a sheep is bound in a designated spot. The first team to grab the sheep wins. Each team represents a village.

The girl chasing game is popular among young Kazaks, and serves as a time of courting for the young men and women. At the beginning of the game, the boy and girl ride abreast. Then the girl whips her horse and the boy chases her to a designated spot. Once they have reached the spot it becomes the girl’s turn to chase the boy. If she catches him, she is allowed to hit him with her whip. If the girl loves the boy, she raises her whip high but only taps him gently. Otherwise she shows no mercy with her whip. Such merry-making often ends in love and marriage.

Tibetan New Year

Tibetan New Year, Tibet FestivalThe Tibetan people long ago developed their own astronomical calendar. The Tibetan calendar, which was officially adopted in 1027, is a combination solar and lunar calendar. According to their calendar, a year is divided into 12 months, each month ranging from 29 to 30 days.
People in different parts of Tibet do not celebrate the New Year on the same day. In Lhasa the Tibetan New Year falls on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar; in places south of the Nyangqu Rivers it falls on the first day of the 12th month; in Oamdo, it is the first day of the 11th month.

The Tibetan New Year is the most important festival celebrated on the highest plateau in the world. Preparation for the New Year begins a month before the holiday. People conduct general house cleaning for the coming New Year. Every family sprouts qingke barley seeds and puts the seedlings before the family shrine as an offering to the gods for an abundant harvest. A phyemar, or five-grain bucket, is a necessity. The bucket is vertically divided into two halves by a wooden board and filled with zanba (roasted qingke barley flour with butter) and barley seeds and decorated with barley ears and colored butter.

On New Year's Eve, the family gets together and eats gudu, or guthug, which is made of wheat flour. Inside the gudu is a bit of wool or charcoal or some peas, pepper, or other objects. If one finds wool in his gudu, he is said to be kindhearted; if he comes upon a piece of charcoal, he is black-hearted. After the meal, bonfires are lit.

As New Year's Day dawns, housewives go out to fetch "auspicious water." Later they wake other family members to go water the animals. New Year's Day water is regarded as the most auspicious. It is believed that this symbolizes favorable weather, a bumper harvest and good luck for the coming New Year. People on this day generally do not go out, but stay home to celebrate with their family members. For a full day, the family members eat zanba and drink qingke wine, made from highland barley. Each family member picks a handful of zanba and throws it into the air to worship the gods. They pop a few grains of zanba into their mouths and chew them before wishing the elders good luck and lasting happiness. Drinking becomes the main activity and goes on from noon to night and many become drunk.

The second day is a day for visiting friends and going out for entertainment. People go to greet relatives and friends and wish each other Tashi Delek (good luck). They exchange white hada with close friends to express their respect. A hada is offered with both hands as a sign of respect and something kind is said.

Water Splashing Festival

Water Splashing FestivalAs the most important festival of the Dai people in China, the water splashing festival falls on a day in June or July according to the Dai calendar. A legend about this festival says that long ago, there lived a ferocious demon king in Xishuangbanna, Yunan Province, who kidnapped seven beautiful women. One day, while he was drunk, the youngest woman cut off his head. But alas! It rolled on the ground and the ground caught fire; it rolled into a river and the river water boiled and all the fish died; when it was buried underground, the whole place stank. So she had no alternative but to hold the head in her arms in order that it might not cause such havoc. After a time she was exhausted, so the six others took turns holding the head. When they rested, they splashed water on their bodies to wash away the bloodstains. Finally the fire was put out, and since then, the Dai people have been able to live in peace.

To commemorate this event, the Dai people splash water at each other, and exchange greetings. There are two ways of splashing water. Water is sprinkled gently through the collar down the back of elderly people. This is called the moderate way. The radical way is a favorite of the youth. Young people use basins or buckets to pour water on each other, chasing and laughing. According to tradition, the more one is splashed, the happier one will be.

When night falls, there is singing and dancing in every village. People perform the native peacock dance to the accompaniment of the bamboo flute, lusheng, (a wind-pipe instrument), gong and a xiangjiao gu (a drum on a pedestal, shaped like an elephant's leg). The Water Splashing Festival marks the beginning of the New Year for the Dai people.