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Golden holidays

/ 05:06 AM January 24, 2020

The Chinese New Year is chunjie in Chinese, which means the spring festival.

It may as well be a spring break, with what is called a golden week holiday that includes the day before the Chinese New Year, Chinese New Year itself and five succeeding days. The Chinese New Year is based on a traditional lunisolar calendar that shifts each year in relation to the western Gregorian calendar. In 2020, the Chinese New Year is on Jan. 25, so the coming golden week goes from Jan. 24 to 30.

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This golden week means a massive exodus of millions of Chinese returning to their home villages. It used to involve battling crowds trying to get tickets and traveling in cramped buses and trains, but these days you can do online booking and get on high-speed trains. Still a mad rush, which, this year, will be accompanied by the government’s concerns about a SARS-like viral outbreak that could spread more quickly with the movement of so many people.

There is another golden week holiday around China’s National Day, which is Oct. 1, marking the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. This year, this golden week holiday will actually have eight days, because Oct. 1 is both National Day and, on the traditional calendar, the Autumn Moon Festival.

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China’s holidays are quite complicated, given the use of two calendars, the western and the Chinese. Add to that a peculiar system of “reimbursements.” If a holiday falls on a weekend, it is “reimbursed” by declaring the following Monday a day off.

In addition, the hardworking Chinese have another form of “reimbursement”—the special working day, which are Saturdays and/or Sundays before a golden week holiday or a three-day holiday (when the holiday is on a Friday, right before a weekend). In this case, the Chinese make up for lost productivity with mandatory work during the weekend right before the long holidays. Great psychology there, having an eight-day work week but looking forward to a long holiday.

Then there are holidays where only a sector of the population gets time off. Women get half a day off on March 8, International Women’s Day. Those aged 14 to 28 get half a day off from work or school on May 4, Youth Day. (That was not a typo; you can be 28 but still be considered “youth.”) Children, meaning those aged below 14, get a whole day off from school on June 1, Children’s Day. Finally, military personnel in active service get half a day off on Aug. 1, People’s Liberation Army Day.

Public holidays say something about the nation.

In China, despite its drive toward hyper-modernity, traditions still count; national holidays include the Spring Festival, Qingming or Tomb Sweeping Day, Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, all based on the traditional Chinese calendar. There are even more traditional holidays that are officially observed in a province or prefecture and in the autonomous regions of national minorities.

The October golden week, on the other hand, emphasizes modern times and the establishment of the People’s Republic, which the Chinese refer to as jiefang or Liberation. Oct. 1 itself is a day for displays of patriotism and to show off China’s many achievements, particularly in technology.

Chinese holidays have evolved with the times. Right after Liberation in 1949, facing the difficult task of rebuilding the nation, China only had seven holidays in a year. But as it became more stable, the holidays increased. The golden weeks were introduced only in 2000, seen not just as a long break but—ever so business-minded these Chinese—also to perk up the economy through holiday spending. There used to be a Labor Day (May 1) golden week, too, but this has since been reduced to a three-day holiday. Three golden weeks would have been excessive, I guess.

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I feel the Philippines has too many unexpected “holidays,” with the way officials are too quick to suspend classes and work with typhoons, but I do see how holidays are a time for recharging, especially in Metro Manila and other large cities where the stress is not so much from the work itself as from the long travel hours to and from work. Maybe we should explore the Chinese system’s perks of golden weeks, “reimbursements” and special days for special people.

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TAGS: Chinese new year, SARS-like viral outbreak
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