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    Festivals of Miao ethnic group

    2023-02-22 16:34Source:http://www.huaihua.gov.cn

    Mayang has festivals every month to celebrate a bump harvest, pray for favorable weather, offer sacrifices to ancestors and gods, or convey sentiments. Most of these festivals are inherited from the Three Miao and Jingchu cultures, with the characteristics of the Mayang region, also with traces of the influence of the Han’s festival culture.


    Spring Festival   It is the so-called Chinese New Year, when people pay a New Year call to each other, the juniors to the seniors, with hustle and bustle of life (such as lantern dramas, dragon lanterns, and operas and plays).

    Open the Door to Wealth   On the first day of the first lunar month, when the rooster crows, one gets up early to make the tea, offer incense, burn paper money to sacrifice to the gods, set off firecrackers, open doors, and bring in bundles of firewood placed before hand at night, bespeaking wealth and blessings since the first day of the Chinese New Year. To be the first one to carry water home is called “grabbing fortune”.

    Set Tea   After the dawn of the first day of the Lunar New Year, tea is re- distributed for worship. In addition to tea, the offerings include steamed glutinous rice cakes and box-printed cakes. In the morning, cakes and noodles (mostly homemade steamed rice noodles) are served as food. The tea is served in the worship for mornings until the third day of the Lunar New Year. The offerings in front of the “Sacrificial Altar” in the Main Hall are generally kept for a day, and the incense remains burning. In addition, the kitchen, the gate, and various livestock and poultry pens are to be worshiped. Afterwards, the tea tray is brought to worship the village well, the god of earth, and the altar with incense burned.

    New Year’s Greetings   It is a convention to pay New Year’s greetings. As the saying goes, “Greetings first to parents, and second to parents-in-law.” Generally, on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month, one reunites with the parents. On the second day, the couple pay a New Year’s visit to the parents-in-law. Afterwards, it is time to visit relatives and friends. In ancient times, when younger generations paid New Year’s greetings to their elders, tea was served in the main hall. After the young bowed, the elders gave red envelopes as a “Lunar New Year Gift”.

    Bid Farewell to New Year   Commonly known as “the middle of the 1st lunar month of the New Year”, it can be conducted five days earlier. In that case, a plate of “sacrificial offerings” is set up with incense from the home to the village entrance. On the morning of this mid-month, the sacrifice is prepared in the same way and the diet is the same as that of the first day of the Chinese New Year. It means that the new year celebration comes to the end. And all the gods return where they are. Afterwards, people resume their life and work as usual.

    There are also some people who start farming before the end of the celebration. As the saying goes, “On the third day of the lunar month of the New Year, the old and the young rush out of the door to start their jobs after worshiping the Door God.”


    Avoidance of Wind and Rain    During the rainy season of Lunar February (or January), there is a custom in Mayang to avoid wind and rain by no water-carrying, no washing, no laboring on this day. It is assumed that people are praying for a favorable weather.

    Waking of Insects    As the third solar term, each household scribbles bows and arrows in front of the door with lime or plant ash, and sprinkles ash around the front and back of the house to avoid insects, snakes, and other toxins. The steamed rice cake is prepared for breakfast. Often, the cake is pasted into the cracks in the wooden pillars and walls of the house. The cake is also pasted on the slit of the fruit trees in the nearby orchard, betokening that the gluttonous bird would be stuck to its beak after eating glutinous rice cake, and could no longer harm the crops. That is so-called “sealing the bird’s beak”.

    February Fools’ Day    On the fifth day after the beginning of spring (around the 20th day of the 2nd lunar month) in Mayang, every household uses wild Artemisia and natural onions as seasonings, mixed with glutinous rice to prepare “Fools’ Feast”. On the previous day, the old and the young are required to hold “Fools’ Feast” and such sacrifices as cattle, sheep, and pigs, burning incense and setting off firecrackers in front of recently buried graves of their deceased loved ones, which is commonly known as “Sacrificial Offering on Fools’ Day”. Before people’s taking a bite of Fools’ Feast, livestock is often first fed, and the slit of fruit trees is pasted with a lump of feast. This is an overtone that after savoring the “Fools’ Feast”, livestock and fruit trees are bound to thrive in the coming year. When enjoying the “Fools’ Feast”, it is believed that the rice should never mix with soup, otherwise the rice fields will collapse and it will be difficult to preserve water sources in the heavy rain. On that day, it is still popular to plant fruits and vegetables in the garden, known as “planting fools”, and it is said that “fools” grow as well as a master, who in turn looks like a fool.


    March 3rd   It is a traditionally antiphonal singing gala in the upper side of Mayang, when the mutant camellia is in full bloom and the tea bushes are the youths’ favorite place to go hiking and antiphonal singing. With the intercommunication between the Miao and the Han, the Miao people “boiled eggs with wild vegetables” on that day. The family members reunite and share at least one egg. Further more, some people believe that “March 3rd” is the birthday of the King of Heaven, so they often spontaneously go to the nearby temples of the King of Heaven to offer incense, hence the Temple Fair.

    Qingming Festival    On this day in ancient times, the Miao people worshiped the God of Panhu. Since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), with the integration of Han customs, this festival is the time to worship ancestors and sweep tombs. It is widely accepted to hang willows at the door and wear them on the head to avoid poison and plague. Qingming Festival is also an auspicious day for setting up a memorial tablet for ancestors. Three days before and after the Qingming Festival are the auspicious period for ancestor to worship and sweep tombs. The Qingming Festival is also the time for relatives who were unable to reunite during the Chinese New Year to gather in their hometown and enjoy a “reunion dinner”.


    Beginning of Summer   As the 7th solar term, a folk saying goes that “If there’s no rainfall since the start of summer, the plow and rake will hang high.” It means “no rain, no harvest.” On that day, the farming time is set, and the bamboo shoots come out of the earth. Fried eggs, bamboo shoots and wild vegetables are collected to worship the ancestors and gods and pray for a favorable weather.

    April 8th   As Mayang Miao Traditional Singing Gala, the youths wake up early to dress up and rush to the gala. It is usually located on the hillside, where love songs are floating throughout the forests and lawns. The youths can freely choose their partners before marriage. This custom has gradually declined since the 1860s.


    The Dragon Boat Festival    Popular near the original county town of Jinhe, it is also known as the “Minor Festival”. On the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, people drink calamus and realgar wine and sprinkle it inside and outside the house, hanging mugwort leaves on both sides of the gate to avoid insect poison. People also prepare glutinous rice dumpling and spectate dragon boat races. The newly married woman must pay a visit upon her parents.

    The Mid-May    Commonly known as the “Major Festival” in May, it is popular in rural areas from the 13th to the 17th of the 5th lunar month. Each village collects festive supplies during local market days, but the holiday dates may vary slightly due to different market days in different regions. People sprinkle potion mixed with garlic inside and outside the house to avoid snakes and insects. People also prepare rice dumplings, Artemisia annua, and glutinous rice cakes. When kids have their first bite of glutinous rice cakes, they should “elude” behind the door, otherwise they will grow as clumsy as glutin. In a legend, it is said that this day commemorates the “Four Officials” in the Temple of Panhu. The Four Officials swam naked across a river to attack a bandit in order to rescue the Miao people who were besieged and deprived of food, and eventually shot and killed in the river. At night, the ghosts of Four Officials went back to the village to seek for rescue supplies. When the villagers arrived before the dawn, the officials had been long away with empty hands. After their retreat, it was already the Lunar May 15th. People were worried that the ghosts of “Four Officials” would “starve and fail to reincarnate”, so they prepared small packages of food and rowed boats to scatter the food along the river. Thus the Dragon Boat Festival comes into being.

    The Panhu Dragon Boat Festival     As the summit of the Dragon Boat Festival in Mayang, from the 1st day of the 5th lunar month to the17th day, it lasted for a total of 17 days. On the first day, for the “Knock at the Gate of Gods”, people sing the “Knock at the Gate of Gods” and “where Am I from” to give out an invitation to the ancestral gods to participate in the festival. In fact, it is an invitation to the Miao people in nearby villages for the festival. From the 2nd to the 10th day of the lunar calendar, it is the period of “Great Dramas” for people’s entertainment. The participating guests would play Lantern Drama, Yang Opera, Nuo Opera, and so on. On the 11th day, the Dragon is descended into the water. Three ceremonies would be held on the same day. The first is “Worship to the Gods”, praying to the Ancestral Gods at the Temple of Panhu and singing the “Longevity to the Gods”. The second is “Parade of Gods”, patrolling around the villages and the ancestral tablets, accompanied by teams such as paper dragon boats and lanterns. The third is “Consulting the Oracle”, singing the “Consulting the Oracle” at the Temple of Panhu, inviting the dragon head and tail, and feasted with hot pot of newly butchered pigs in the hut of dragon boat. Then the dragon boat are descended into the water, dressed up as a Panhu dragon boat. From the 12th to the 14th day, people “pay homage to the gods”. The rowers on the Panhu dragon boats follow the river to search relics of ancestral migration, singing “Where Am I from”. The Miao people along the river set out tea to entertain the Panhu dragon boat, singing “Thanksgiving Song” or “Pray to the Gods”, etc. From the 15th to the 16th day, it is a “Race Period”. Hundreds of boats race across the rivers, with hustle and bustle of spectators aside. On the 17th day, it is the “Day to Return to Gods”. On that day, three ceremonies are held. The first is “Win favor of Gods”, i.e. the two heads of Panhu dragon boats are tied together before the race. The winner would be favored with the prosperity in the future. The second is “Expel the God of Plague”, i.e. overturn the dragon boat, singing “Expel the God of Plague”, which bespeaks the eradication of the plague. The third is “Return to the Gods”, i.e. sing the “Return to the Gods”, inviting the dragon’s head and tail to return to the Temple of Panhu.


    June 6th    On the 6th day of the 6th lunar month, farmers often offer some sacrifices. After cleaning their barns and houses, they burn incenses and paper money outside, implying to drive off the pests in the warehouses and ensure the home free from worry.

    A Bite of Fresh Crops     During the ten days starting from the Moderate Heat (11th solar term), there is a folk custom of “A Bite of Fresh Crops” in Mayang when the newly-grown rice just begins to mature. On the same day, vegetables, fish, and meat are collected to make a fresh meal as sacrificed offerings to the Gods of Heaven and Earth. Before the meal, dogs are allowed to take the first bite, for expressing gratitude to the God of Gog who has brought grain and seeds from the Heaven to save Miao people from the flood-stricken area long time ago.


    The Ghost Day     It is known as “Mid-July” or “Ghost Festival”, as the saying goes, “Even a ghost has its day.” On the afternoon of the 10th day of the 7th lunar month, a tray of sacrificial offerings is to be set up from the village well, the god of earth, and the shrine, to the inner home, burning incense and paper money, meaning to welcome the ancestors and gods back home for reunion with the family members. From that evening onwards, beef, mutton and pork as sacrificial offerings are offered to gods, souls and ghosts that are newly-buried or remote in the past. On the afternoon of the 15th, the sacrifice starts from the inner home to the village entrance, served with sacrificial offerings and paper money, incense candles, gold and silver ingots to be burned, to escort the deceased ones back to the nether world at ease. In the old days, it was common to make homemade paper lanterns and send them to nearby rivers, streams, mountain ponds, and reservoirs.


    The Mid-Autumn Festival   It originates from the “Reunion Festival” of the Han nationality. On the afternoon of August 15th, ducks and wine are served for a banquet with some sacrificial offerings. At night, moon-cakes are prepared for the festival.

    A Preliminary Reunion    Before the New Year  The Liao-surnamed family in Huangtupo Village, Wenchangge Town, held a preliminary reunion before the New Year. In addition to celebrating the Chinese New Year on the 30th day of the Lunar New Year, there is also a convention of celebrating the New Year on the 24th day of the 8th lunar month. Legend has it that over two hundred years ago, the Liao family was very poor. On the completion of harvesting in autumn, the host had to go out to earn subsidy to support the family by making charcoals in Guizhou Province. In late August of one year, the host proposed to stay away from home during the Chinese New Year for the sake of time and money. His mother gave her consent and  proposed to celebrate the New Year as early as possible in consideration of family reunion and farewell party. So they invited their closest relatives and celebrated the New Year together on the 24th day of the 8th lunar month. However, unfortunately, the host passed away in a strange land. Later on, in order to commemorate the host, his children and grandchildren would prepare glutinous rice cakes and pork on the 24th day of the 8th lunar month to celebrate the New Year. The sons, daughters, and relatives would come to pay New Year’s greetings and offer sacrifices to their ancestors, which have been passed down from generation to generation.


    The Double Ninth Day    It resumed the custom of Yin Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.) and flourished in Chu State (1115-223 B.C.). On the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, rice, beans, wheat, roosters, pork, and rice cakes were used to worship the gods, the local land, and ancestors. Afterwards, the whole family celebrated the day together. The glutinous rice cake, Artemisia annua cake and chrysanthemum wine are served for the day. Customarily, men of letters “surmount hills and mountains, and cherish the memory of the beloved ones”. Since Mayang was enlisted into the “Land of Longevity in China”, the Double Ninth Day has become “the Longevity Gods’ Day”, and on that day, all the long-lived elders in the county receive salute and congratulation.

    Mid-September Day    Rather than the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, Guandong (Gandong) Village, Guogongping Town, bordering on the provinces of Hunan and Guizhou, celebrates the festival on the 15th day of the 9th lunar month, commonly known as “Mid-September Day”, as boisterous as the Chinese New Year. The glutinous rice cakes are usually prepared in Mayang. They are handmade by the wooden hammers within troughs, which are an indispensable tool in festivals. It is said that in the Double Ninth Day, when two brothers of the Liu-surnamed family in the Guandong Village were busy in preparing the festival, the younger brother planned to borrow the trough from the elder brother, yet was humiliated due to the poverty. From then on, the festival was deferred to the 15th day of the 9th lunar month, several days apart from the Double Ninth Day. The so-called Mid-September is celebrated with hustle and bustle. All the villagers, old or young, put down what they are doing and celebrate the festival. They get up before the dawn to butcher pigs. At noon, relatives and friends from far and near are treated in the family. After dinner,  households shut their doors and rush to watch the grand dramas and operas. In the early days, Nuo Opera, Lantern Drama, Yang Opera, etc., are greatly favored, even though basketball matches and movies fall into the sight of the younger generations.


    Winter Assistance Day    As a form of “celebrating the Miao New Year”, it is popular in remote villages in Mayang. Baodong Village, Lancun Town, for instance, has a celebration on the 2nd day of the 10th lunar month, butchering pigs and cattle, preparing glutinous rice cakes, burning incense and paper money, worshiping the heaven and earth and ancestors, and gathering the whole family to join the feast. In addition, people also confer how to provide the safeguards for the poor, the old, and the young, as well as the cattle, to stride across the killing freeze in winter. Therefore, some villages specifically donate money or contribute a piece of land to the “Winter Assistance Association”, nominating a head responsible for convening. For celebration, puppet shows, Yang Operas, and Lantern Dramas,  add to the joy and fun to the atmosphere.


    Winter Days   Winter Solstice  On the day of the Winter Solstice, farming has completed and cropped well. The well-to-do farmers would prepare beef, mutton, and pork as sacrificial offerings in front of their doors, ancestral tablets, and village shrines to pray for good weather in the coming year.


    (Hammering Glutinous Rice Cake)   

    Hustle and Bustle for the New Year    Around the 20th day of the 12th lunar month, Mayang Miao Towns are hustle and bustle, butchering pigs and wafted with aroma of wine in every corner. Families prepare glutinous rice cakes and box-printed cakes, pickling and smoking pork, enriching the supplies to prepare for the New Year.  On the 23rd day, the God of Kitchen is dispatched to the Heaven to give an account of the host’s deeds. Meanwhile, it is necessary to give a thorough cleaning in the house. On the 28th day, Spring Festival couplets and New Year paintings are pasted in the house.

    Minor New Year   In the late 12th lunar month, Mayang keeps the habit of celebrating the Minor New Year. For villages in the upper side of the county, it falls on the 23rd, for villages near the county, on the 25th, and for villages in the lower side,  on the 28th. Despite the time difference, it is celebrated in the same way. They paste Door Gods, couplets, and paintings, worshiping the Gods of Heaven and Earth, and preparing preserved fish and meat, and fine wine. The whole family gather together for the feast with a grandeur no less than that of New Year’s Eve. On the day of burning incense and paper money for the New Year, the newlyweds return to their parents-in-law’s home to celebrate the Chinese New Year, commonly known as “Sipping New Year’s Wine”.

    Chinese New Year’s Eve    On the eve of the Chinese New Year (29th day for a 29-day month of the lunar calendar), a kitchen knife and a tray of “sacrificial offerings” are prepared, with incense and paper money burned from various shrines in the village  to the inner houses, kitchen and livestock pens. The ancestors and gods are entertained back home for the Chinese New Year, commonly known as “Burning New Year Paper Money”. In the afternoon, family members gather together to enjoy the reunion dinner. At night, the whole family sit around the bonfire, adding a large log into a raging flame, calling it “an ablaze fire to bless a booming year”. Encircling the fire, family members keep chatting about yesterday, today and tomorrow until late at night, which is called “stay up late on new year’s eve”.

    (Translated by Tian Xia)