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To clarify, I've asked the question on ELL, and received unsatisfactory results, and this site seems to be my last hope.

In an English textbook used in China, a sentence reads like this:

We (Chinese) eat boat cakes at the Dragon Boat Festival.

I think the preposition AT is wrong, and ON should be the right one to use in this sentence because: there IS a set date for the Dragon Boat Festival, which lasts for one day, and there are almost NO activities held at home NOR events for anybody to go to, except that some Chinese eat the "boat cakes" (at home). The festival in question commemorates an ancient patriotic poem in Chinese history, but in reality, modern Chinese baically take it as a very good excuse to have a day off, and hence it became a 1-day national holiday as of 2008.

Am I right to use ON?

Please feel free to believe or confirm that "the Dragon Boat Festival in itself is a problematic term or translation", and hence the sentence is invalid and has to be rephrased.

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  • ELL link: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/180824/…
    – S.Z.
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:19
  • Was the answer on ELL unsatisfactory because it didn't support your argument or because it said both prepositions are acceptable?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:33
  • The answer to your question might be lengthy. But if you insist, I’ll do it on my computer in about ten hours.
    – S.Z.
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:39
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    :D Wow, ten hours to say why the answer was unsatisfactory? OK.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:45
  • I’m in bed and I need my beauty sleep.
    – S.Z.
    Sep 29, 2018 at 15:53

2 Answers 2

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The use of the term "festival" leads one to think of an event held at a particular location; it follows that one would use "at" as the appropriate preposition. If one were to characterize the event as a "holiday" the implication would be that it is a widely celebrated event that is not limited to a particular location; in this circumstance, "on" would be the appropriate preposition. So I think the deciding factor would be how the event is characterized.

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  • If temporal, 'at' implies time and 'on' implies day. Also, if the festival implies a definite time then you don't need 'the' before its name.
    – AmI
    Sep 29, 2018 at 18:18
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    @Liz I talked to the editors of the textbook, we both agreed that (as a fact) the festival in question is a DAY. I think the proofreader, who is a native English speaker, believed either that the festival lasts for more than a day, or that there are certain events where people congregate.
    – S.Z.
    Sep 29, 2018 at 23:43
  • @Ami The more I think about the problem, the more I tend to side with the idea that the translation is problematic.
    – S.Z.
    Sep 29, 2018 at 23:45
  • We (Americans) would use 'at' for a festival, party, gathering, etc. For holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc., we can use 'on' for the day (or add the word 'day'), but we use 'at' for the period, allowing time for preparing gifts, food, and decorations, and for travel.
    – AmI
    Sep 30, 2018 at 4:03
  • @AmI With my research on "ON/AT+festival", I see no conflict between the American way and the British way. The core of the problem lies in the definition of FESTIVAL. To me, native English speakers tend to understand and use the word as "performances or events", igonoring the fact that the word does mean "a time of celebration marked by special observances" (Merriam Webster's Collegiate 11) or "a day or period of the year when people stop working to celebrate a special event, often a religious one" (OALD9), in which case, "ON (the) Dragon Boat Festival" is a perfectly safe use.
    – S.Z.
    Sep 30, 2018 at 5:39
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'On' the dragon boat festival cannot be right because the festival lasts for more than a day therefore 'at' us the correct preposition to use.

You definitely do need 'the' you cannot in English say 'at dragon boat festival or on dragon boat festival ' definite article must be present.

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  • Please... the festival is just on a certain day and lasts only for that day.
    – S.Z.
    Aug 22, 2020 at 13:34

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