Article by Tim King
In May, China celebrated two extremely important holidays: May 17th and May 20th, the “Foodie Festival” and the “I Love You Festival,” respectively. Both find their origins in the Western Han Dynasty, when the Emperor Wudi oversaw an incredible harvest and established a day of feasting; three days later, his favorite concubine gave birth to his first son and, declaring that he loved her for birthing his heir he established a day for lovers to cherish one another.
Nah, I’m just screwing with you. These two festivals fall on these dates entirely due to puns (slant rhymes, specifically)—5/17 in Chinese would be pronounced “wu yao qi,” which sounds like “wo yao chi” (我要吃, “I want to eat”); 5/20 would be pronounced “wu er ling,” which sounds like “wo ai ni” (我爱你, “I love you”). The former is an excuse for waimai apps to send you triple the notifications they usually would; the latter would constitute China’s third Valentine’s Day, and is an exercise in commercialism so crass that February 14th stands in the corner judging it for being a basic bitch. But hey, slant rhymes and puns are fun, so if this is how we’re going to make new holidays then we should really go for it. Here are just a few suggestions for new holidays to spice up the Chinese calendar.
– THE FESTIVAL OF IDIOTS
Any learner of the Chinese language that has tried to order “er” of something instead of “liang” of something has probably gotten a couple of sniggers from shopkeepers. This is because “er” is slang for “idiot.” Why not dedicate February 22nd, a date scientists have determined has the most twos in it, to the idiot in all of us? Bars and restaurants can run promotions giving discounts to every idiot who comes to their establishment (pending the results of a short test to prove that you are, in fact, an idiot), Youku can promote “fail” videos and movie theatres can premiere the latest Transformers film. The possibilities are endless because idiocy is everywhere. The arrogant amongst us will likely spend the day looking down on all the happy idiots, but the Er Er Er Festival will be a day to prove that ignorance truly is bliss.
– THE UMBRELLA PURGE FESTIVAL
I’m a shorter guy so I don’t really have these problems, but my taller friends tell me that umbrellas are the bane of their existence—ugly swaths of cloth held together by horrifically sharp spikes that are generally positioned at the eye-level of passersby. This danger is exacerbated by the fact that, in China, umbrellas are commonly used both in the rain and in the sunshine. If you’re reading this and nodding vigorously in agreement because I’m describing the agony of your daily life, March 14th is the new holiday for you. “San yao si” sounds like it could mean “the umbrella is going to die,” so during the Umbrella Purge Festival we shall celebrate by wantonly snapping, ripping and destroying every umbrella we come across. After sundown, we will all gather in a public square where we will set every umbrella (and what remains of the ones we smashed earlier) ablaze, dancing around it singing songs about a wonderful utopia without umbrellas and about Uncle San, the Chinese god of not being an oblivious dick when carrying an umbrella around.
– THE ALCOHOL FESTIVAL
Named for the number nine’s identical pronunciation to alcohol (in Chinese both are pronounced jiǔ), the traditions of the venerable Alcohol Festival shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone wishing to celebrate it. Although, since there are two nines in the date, you should know that if you have a hand that’s not gripping a vessel of booze, you’re doing it wrong.
– THE MISUNDERSTANDING FESTIVAL
One that many of us laowai will be able to celebrate with gusto, even without knowing about it. The Misunderstanding Festival is held on October 14th because “shi yi si” sounds like a nervous, fresh-off-the-plane American trying to say “Sha yi si?” (啥意思, “What does that mean?”). On this festival, anything anyone says to you should be replied to with a hearty “啥意思?” Or, if you really want to celebrate to the max, just run around yelling “ting bu dong!” at anyone who looks at you.
Tim King is the editor-in-chief of Xianease and has lived in China for more than 7 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org