April 17 is Easter, a festival full of joy and energy. Have you prepared chocolate bunnies already? Have you dyed brightly colored eggs and put them in a basket? While Easter is widely celebrated in the United States, Canada, Europe, etc., East Asia also celebrates their own spring holidays on the other side of the planet. In this article, I’ll introduce you to some of these exciting conventional holidays celebrated in the springtime.
Spring Holidays in Japan
Hanami means blossom-viewing in Japanese. For the Japanese people, April is a romantic time of year in which cherry blossoms enter their full bloom. In April, almost all of the streets in Japan shine pink and each row of trees along rivers and parks is richly dyed. When the breeze blows, it sends a shower of petals flying through the sky.
Strictly speaking, hanami is not a holiday but a traditional custom that began in the Nara period (710-794). It has nothing to do with religion or politics but is simply a time for Japanese people to get close to nature and embrace spring.
During the season of cherry blossoms, Japanese people enjoy spreading out a picnic blanket under the cherry trees to have a relaxing meal with their families or friends. Since the cherry blossoms have a short flowering period of one to two weeks, special consideration needs to be given to the blossom-viewing time.
Actually, Japan is a long and narrow country from north to south, and the blooming dates vary geographically. Therefore, the Japan Meteorological Agency announces the blooming dates of cherry blossoms annually (also known as sakura-zensen), just like a weather forecast.
Every year, Japan has a consecutive holiday period from April 29 to May 5. Golden week is one of the most anticipated occasions of the year for Japanese people, second only to New Year’s. However, Golden Week is not a single festival but a succession of holidays. Several holidays combine to make a relatively long vacation that students and workers alike look forward to each year.
Showa Day – April 29
Constitution Day – May 3
Greening Day – May 4
Children’s Day – May 5
While each of these national holidays has its own history and symbolism, the focus of Golden Week for many folks living in Japan is taking the opportunity to travel with their family. Popular destinations include domestic tourist cities or even overseas vacation spots, such as New York, London, etc.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism has come to a near halt worldwide, and Japan is no exception. The good news is that things are getting better. According to a survey by JTB Corporation, the number of domestic tourists in Japan is expected to increase by 68.4% this year compared to 2021, soaring back up to 16 million people.
Spring Holidays in China
Qingming Festival (also known as Tomb Sweeping Day), celebrated around April 5, is one of the most significant official festivals in China. It has a very long history of several thousands of years. Chinese people sweep their deceased loved ones’ tombs and pay respects to their ancestors on this day.
However, it’s also a joyful festival for people to get close to nature and enjoy the fun of spring. It could be said that the Qingming Festival has both natural and humanistic connotations. Since ancient times, these two traditional themes have been passed down in China and overseas Chinese societies.
More specifically, on this day, Chinese people bring flowers and food to the graves of their deceased relatives to express their reverence. Since Qingming is in spring (around April 5), Chinese people also go hiking, picnic, enjoy the flowers, and fly kites around this time.
International Workers’ Day
May 1 is International Workers’ Day and an official festival in China. This festival has a consecutive holiday break from April 30 to May 4 every year and also happens to be called Golden Week. However, it’s obvious that this one is quite different from the Japanese festival in terms of its themes.
This International Workers’ Day is celebrated to commemorate the hard work of laborers and the achievements of workers’ movements around the world. Let’s take a brief look at its history!
In July 1889, the Second International, led by economic philosopher Friedrich Engels, held a congress in Paris. The conference adopted a resolution stipulating that the International Workers’ Parade would be held on May 1, 1890. At the same time, they decided to set the date of May 1 as International Labor Day.
In December 1949, the Central Government of PRC also decided to set May 1 as Labor Day. Since 1989, the State Council has honored advanced workers who contribute a great deal to their country nationwide every five years, with about 3,000 people honored each time.
Spring Holidays in South Korea
Lotus Lantern Festival (Buddha’s Birthday )
Every year in mid to late May, Korea celebrates the Buddha’s Birthday, a festival that commemorates the birthday of Shakyamuni. This Korean festival dates back to 37 B.C. when the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo adopted Buddhism as the state religion.
The celebration of Buddha’s Birthday in Korea consists of various events and customs. People usually write one or two wishes on paper and put them into a lantern. Then, they light the lantern and send it to the temple. Throughout the month, lotus lanterns that carry Korean people’s hopes are hung in temples.
Today, many Koreans still visit Buddhist temples in May and even trek to remote ones located in mountainous areas. Many temples also provide complimentary tea and meals for visitors. Furthermore, some devotees will bring turtles or fish to the river to be released as a righteous deed for cleansing spirits.