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Man looking up at fireworks

Lantern Festival 元宵节

Lantern Festival 元宵节 Yuánxiāojié, or 灯节 Deng Jie, occurs on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year. It is a celebration of light, family, and the coming summer. The Chinese year is divided into 24 segments based on the full moon. The Lantern Festival marks the beginning of the period called Yuan, thus the name of the festival.

Lanterns are strung from trees, children carry lanterns, there are lanterns everywhere. Some of the lanterns have paintings of beautiful scenes, and some have riddles to be solved. Except in 2008 in Beijing. A friend and I drove to three parks where there are traditionally large displays for Lantern Festival. Nothing. At one park a huge sign had been put up saying, "There is nothing for Lantern Festival this year." Obviously, others had asked a few times. It turned out that in view of the effort and expense planned for the Olympics, it had been decided not to put up elaborate displays for Lantern Festival.

But when we went back to her home, we found the greatest celebration going on. We had also been looking for fireworks and found them on her street corner. Lantern Festival is the last day on which you can shoot off fireworks. That meant that everyone who had any left and those vendors who still had a supply were on the streets. The vendors were giving mild discounts, but there was a ready market. People took turns on each of the four corners, the sky was seldom dark. There was even an intrepid soul on top of a local building setting them off from there. It is against the law to set them off from buildings.

This was the first year of legalized fireworks. Before, the government had tried to ban them for fire and safety reasons - limiting displays to a few spots. There were so many illegal fireworks that they decided to gain control by licensure and inspection. It worked. There were few accidents during 2008. Most accidents in the past were caused by faulty counterfeit fireworks. The licensed fireworks were inspected and controlled. In 2009, there was a disaster when a developer violated the law and set off fireworks from a new hotel, burning the hotel and causing the death of one firefighter. The hotel itself was unoccupied.

Fireworks have been used to drive evil spirits away for thousands of years. They are traditionally set off at birthdays, weddings, funerals, and as a part of many holidays. But I would guess that mostly they were set off because they are a lot of fun.

China Index >> Modern Culture in Beijing >> Lantern Festival Fireworks

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Last update: July 2009
© Marilyn Shea, 2009