Dec 04, 2023

The Beginner’s Guide to 15 Must-Know Chinese Holiday Words

Are you wondering what words people in China use to talk about holidays?

You’re in the right place!

In this blog post, we will share 15 important Chinese words related to holidays.

We have words for big holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day and even single-character words that hold a lot of meaning.

Holiday 假

Let’s begin with the compound character 假 (jià/jiǎ).

It comprises two parts: 亻 is the person radical, and 叚 gives us a clue about how the character should sound.

Now, here comes the interesting part: depending on how you say it, it can mean two completely different things!

Say it with a 4th tone, like this: “jià,” which means “holiday.”

But if you say it with a 3rd tone: “jiǎ,” it takes a turn and means “fake” or “false.” Quite the opposite, isn’t it?

You might be scratching your head, thinking, “How can one character mean two different things?”.

Well, you’ve just stumbled upon the fascinating world of 多音字 (duō yīn zì), or “many sound characters.”

In Chinese, several characters have this linguistic feature of changing meanings with their different pronunciations — it’s like getting two for the price of one!

Holiday(s) 假日

holidays in Chinese

Building on our understanding of 假 (jià), let’s explore how we can play with this character to form other common words related to holidays.

By teaming it up with 日 (rì), which stands for “day,” we end up with a brand-new term: 假日 (jià rì), translating to “holiday(s)” as well.

Now, 假 (jià) can only represent “holiday,” leaving its “fake” meaning behind!

Depending on the situation, 假日 can also refer to non-working or non-school days, such as weekends or public holidays.

The synonym of 假日 is 假期 (jià qī). 期 (qī) can mean “a period of time.” You might have come across 期 in the Chinese words for weekdays, such as 星期一, 星期二 etc.

It’s always exciting to see familiar characters pop up in new contexts, isn’t it?

To be on holiday 放假

Next up is the phrase 放假 (fàng jià), which is all about taking a break.

The first part, 放 (fàng), means “to release” or “to let go.” It consists of two parts: 方 (fāng), which indicates the sound, and 攵 is a Chinese radical related to actions.

When we add 假 (jià) to 放 (fàng), we get 放假 (fàng jià), a phrase that means “to be on holiday” or “to be off work/school.”

Now, you might be wondering how 放假 (fàng jià) is different from 假日/假期 (jià rì/jià qī) we learned earlier.

Here is a simple trick: 假日/假期 is a noun that talks about the holiday itself, while 放假 is a verb phrase that means the action of taking a holiday.

Let’s look at how to use these words with some common questions:

What do you plan to do during the holiday?
這個假期你打算做什麼?(written in traditional Chinese)
这个假期你打算做什么?(written in simplified Chinese)
Pinyin: zhège jiàqī nǐ dǎsuàn zuò shénme?
Literally: this + measure word 个 + holiday + you + to plan + to do + what

When will you be on holiday?
你什麼時候放假?(written in traditional Chinese)
你什么时候放假?(written in simplified Chinese)
Pinyin: nǐ shénme shíhòu fàngjià?
Literally: you + what + time + to be on holiday

And remember, 假日/假期 and 放假 can be used to talk about any time you have off, not just for when you go on a holiday/vacation.

Summer break 暑假

summer break in Chinese

Summer is a time to bask in the sun and enjoy a dip in the pool, and for students in China, it means a much-awaited break from school – 暑假 (shǔ jià)!

This term brings together 暑 (shǔ), representing the “summer heat,” and 假 (jià), which, as we know, means “holiday.” So, 暑假 (shǔ jià) literally translates to “summer break.”

Another term that you might come across is 暑期 (shǔ qī), a synonym for 暑假, which blends “summer heat” with “a period of time.”

In China, students eagerly await the start of July, kicking off their summer break until the end of August. It’s a season of relaxation and freedom exclusively tied to the school calendar.

Now, if you want to say that students are on summer break, just add the verb 放 (fàng) in front of 暑假, forming the phrase 放暑假 (fàng shǔ jià), meaning “to have a summer break.”

Winter break 寒假

As the chill of winter sets in, it’s time for another important school holiday in China – the 寒假 (hán jià), or “winter break.”

The term brings together 寒 (hán), signifying the “cold of winter,” and the familiar word 假 (jià) for “holiday.”

Another term that you might come across is 寒期 (hán qī), a synonym for 寒假, which blends “wintry” with “a period of time.”

In China, students eagerly await this break, which typically begins at the end of January and lasts until early February. The exact dates can fluctuate, depending on when the Lunar New Year falls in that particular year.

Now, here’s a little test for you: can you figure out how to say “to have a winter break” in Chinese? Hint: think back to how we formed 放暑假 in the previous section!

Festival 節/节

Imagine a vibrant parade, delicious food, and a joyous celebration; we’re talking about festivals, or as they say in Chinese, 節 (jié) in traditional Chinese and 节 (jié) in simplified Chinese.

Interestingly, while the Western world often differentiates between holidays and festivals, the lines are more blurred in Chinese.

In the Chinese calendar, most official holidays end with the suffix 節/节, intertwining the concept of a “festival” with a “holiday.”

Festival(s) 節日/节日

Building on the single-character term for “festival,” we have 節日 (traditional)/节日 (simplified), pronounced as “jié rì.”

This phrase, which pairs 節/节 (festival) with 日 (day), is a more popular way to say “festival(s)” in Chinese.

Using 節日/节日 helps avoid confusion, as the standalone 節/节 can also refer to a “section” or “segment” in different contexts.

Spring Festival 春節/春节

spring festival in Chinese

Let’s keep the festive spirit high as we talk about the grandest celebration in the Chinese calendar: the 春節/春节 (chūn jié) or the Spring Festival!

The Spring Festival is also known as the Chinese New Year, a celebration rooted in the lunar calendar and can stretch to 15 days.

While the dates fluctuate each year, they usually fall between late January and early February.

Celebrating 春節/春节 is all about family reunions, steeped in traditions and the hope of good fortune for the upcoming year. It’s a time of joy, reflection, and embracing the promise of a bright and prosperous year ahead.

Christmas 聖誕節/圣诞节

Christmas in Chinese

In late December, a different kind of festive spirit takes hold; it’s time for 聖誕節/圣诞节 (shèng dàn jié) or Christmas!

While not a traditional festival, 聖誕節/圣诞节 has been embraced with a growing fondness, especially among the young people in China.

For example, the Chinese have adopted various global traditions such as exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, and enjoying festive markets.

On this day, you can witness vibrant lights illuminating the shopping malls, bustling with shoppers keen to make the most of the holiday sales.

The synonym of 聖誕節/圣诞节 is 耶誕節/耶诞节 (yē dàn jié).

Thanksgiving Day 感恩節/感恩节

Thanksgiving day in Chinese

As we navigate through the calendar year, we come across another heartfelt celebration in the West, especially in the US – 感恩節/感恩节 (gǎn ēn jié), known as Thanksgiving Day.

This holiday takes its name from the phrase 感恩 (gǎn ēn), meaning “to express gratitude,” combined with our familiar suffix 節/节 (jié) to denote “festival.”

Predominantly celebrated in the US and Canada, this day is a gentle reminder to appreciate our blessings.

Easter 復活節/复活节

Easter in Chinese

Easter holds a prominent place in the Christian calendar as it symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a seminal event celebrated by millions around the globe.

Its Chinese term, 復活節/复活节 (fù huó jié), captures the spirit of Easter, translating to “resurrection festival.”

Though not anchored to a fixed date, Easter Sunday falls between March 22nd and April 25th.

The exact day is determined by a lunar event, celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox, generally around March 21st.

Valentine’s Day 情人節/情人节

A celebration of love and affection, Valentine’s Day, known as 情人節/情人节 (qíng rén jié) in Chinese, holds a special place in hearts worldwide.

The term perfectly encapsulates the essence of the day, combining 情人 (qíng rén), meaning “lover,” with 節/节 (jié), denoting “festival.”

Occurring annually on February 14th, it’s a day that transcends borders and cultures, uniting people in the universal language of love.

Father’s Day 父親節/父亲节

Honoring fatherhood and the influence of fathers in society, we have 父親節/父亲节 (fù qīn jié) or Father’s Day. The phrase brings together 父親/父亲 (fù qīn), meaning “father,” with our familiar term 節/节 (jié) – “festival.” This day is celebrated globally and fosters a universal appreciation for fathers and father figures. The date varies across countries but is commonly observed on the third Sunday of June in many parts of the world.

Mother’s Day 母親節/母亲节

No less important is Mother’s Day, or 母親節/母亲节 (mǔ qīn jié), a day dedicated to honoring and expressing gratitude to mothers and maternal figures globally.

In Chinese, 母親/母亲 (mǔ qīn) translates to “mother” and plus the learned word 節/节 (jié), “festival.”

母親節/母亲节, a global celebration, encourages us to appreciate the nurturing spirit of mothers.

It is widely celebrated on the second Sunday of May in numerous countries, embodying a universal love and respect for mothers.

New Year’s Day 新年

While globally recognized and celebrated on January 1st according to the Gregorian calendar, its Chinese sidesteps the common 假 or 節/节 (jié) suffixes, straightforwardly presenting itself — by pairing 新 (xīn; new) with 年 (nián; year).

As the calendar turns a new page, people worldwide welcome the onset of a fresh beginning with 新年, embodying new hopes and opportunities.

As we wrap up our festive journey through the calendar, remember immersing yourself in a language involves acquainting yourself with some familiarities.

If mastering all 15 terms feels too ambitious at the start, why not begin with a few keywords that resonate most with you? Perhaps 假 (holiday), 放假 (to have a holiday), 節/节 (festival), or 聖誕節/圣诞节 (Christmas)?

Engage with the language by marking public holidays in Chinese in your New Year Planner — a simple yet effective way to revisit and reinforce what you’ve learned today.

Start small, and watch your vocabulary flourish through the year. Happy learning!

By Chineasy | A Super Chineasian

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