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Chinese-Way

Modern Chinese celebrate Lantern Festival with downsized customs

(Xinhua)
Updated: 2011-02-21 11:15
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Wang Qinggen has spent the past 50 years of his life making lanterns, but now "flourishing business days" only stay in his memory as today's modern lifestyle in China has been watering down traditional celebrations during the Lantern Festival.

"People who buy lanterns for the Lantern Festival have become fewer over the past dozen years," said the 67-year-old craftsman who lives in north China's Hebei Province.

Wang took over the family business from his father, who had spent his entire life making lanterns which sold very well during the Spring Festival season in the past, especially on the Lantern Festival day when they used to light up almost every street across China.

The festival, which brings an end to the Spring Festival season, is held on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar and this year it falls on Thursday. Traditionally, it is an occasion for family reunions and, more importantly, it includes various outdoor activities.

During the festival, which might date back to the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C.- 900 A .D.), people, especially children, go out at night carrying paper lanterns and read and solve riddles pasted onto the lanterns. There are also performances of drums and dragon dances in the streets. Further, young women who normally stayed at home were chaperoned in the streets in the hope of finding love during the festival.

About 17 ethnic groups, including Han, Mongolian, Korean, Hui, Tibetan and Manchu, celebrate the festival, which was listed in 2008 as being among China's intangible cultural heritages .

"The Lantern Festival used to be the most exciting festival in China, it's like a Chinese carnival," said Cao Baoming, vice president of the China Folk Literature and Art Society.

However, now lantern shows usually can only be seen in parks and at city squares as modern Chinese are living an increasingly fast pace of life and most of them no longer care to buy and carry lanterns around, said Wang Ziping from Wuhan City in central China's Hubei Province.

"The streets are now occupied by an increasing number of cars, both moving ones and parked ones. There isn't much space left for those happy events which we used to have," said the 83-year-old man.

"Besides, young people are paying more attention to Western festivals like Christmas and Valentine's Day, and few of them would actively ask to celebrate the Lantern Festival," he added.

Though most Chinese families still keep the tradition of eating yuanxiao -- small round dumplings made of glutinous rice flour usually filled with various sweet fillings , instead of hand-making the food, which used to be quality time for family members to spend together, most people now buy yuanxiao from supermarkets.

xx"Our kids are working outside town and today's not a public holiday. So, it's just me and my husband to have yuanxiao together. We bought them from the supermarket," said Li, a 68-year-old woman who only gave her surname.

In 2007, China rescheduled its national legal holidays, adding three traditional Chinese festivals, including "Tomb-Sweeping Day," "Dragon Boat Festival," and "Mid-Autumn Festival," as legal holidays, though the Lantern Festival was not included.

Many advocated that people should enjoy a day off work during the Lantern Festival, as this was the only way they could have the time and be put into the mood to celebrate the festival.

However, despite all these downsizings, people still can feel some festive vibes on this day.

In Beijing, a three-day lantern show in a busy commercial street opened Tuesday. The show features more than 1,000 lanterns in various shapes and colors and also artistic performances including dragon dances, acrobatics, operas and dramas recreating imperial parades and ancient market places.

In central China's Henan Province, visitors Thursday experienced folk performances such as dragon dances, lion dances as well as stilt walking at a temple fair.

Also, in a town in South China's island province of Hainan, some people went onto the streets Thursday to exchange flowers with strangers and extend their best wishes to each other.

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