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China Daily Website

Keeping the spirit

Updated: 2013-06-17 15:48
By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily)

The length of a public holiday is a tricky thing. If it's too long, say a week, almost everyone would be tempted to travel and therefore strain the resources, such as transport, accommodation and recreational facilities, to the limit. The Spring Festival, aka the Chinese New Year, poses the ultimate challenge, and the government can do nothing about it other than building up the infrastructure. The high-speed trains are truly a huge relief.

China, the mainland that is, used to have a similar weeklong holiday for the Labor Day centered on May 1. In 2008 it was shortened from three days (turning seven days with two weekends joined together) to one day. At the same time, three one-day holidays were designated, all traditional festivals with roots going back thousands of years.

That was a giant step in the right direction: It eliminated one of the three weeklong festivals (the other non-traditional one being National Day on October 1) and its limit-pushing headache, and at the same time it gave prominence to Chinese customs that were either taken for granted or fading from modern hustle and bustle.

Ironically, the biggest enemy for traditional Chinese holidays is not transplanted Western ones like Valentine's Day and Christmas, but the newfound affluence that has enriched almost every Chinese. In the old days we looked forward to feasting upon a plate of zongzi (rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves) because we could not afford it for most of the year; children counted days to the Spring Festival because that was the only occasion their parents would buy them new clothing and hand them a red envelope holding cash.

Nowadays we can turn every meal into a New Year's Eve banquet, which essentially makes the real thing into an also-ran. We still visit our parents on Chinese New Year's Day, but instead of sitting around the table and nibbling on sunflower seeds we now sit in front of the TV and watch the Las Vegas-style gala and practice sardonic reviews. We still send each other mooncakes for the Moon Festival, but it is more an act of consumerism than associating a moonlit night with thoughts of loved ones. We don't need to rely on the moon as we have WeChat that allows instant video chat for those living oceans apart. Technology has brought us closer and killed off the esoteric beauty of mooncake-inspired longing.

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