For the Chinese, two weeks after the New Year comes another celebration, the Lantern Festival. During this festival people light gaily-colored lanterns as decorations, similar to Christmas tree lights in the West.
There are also performances of gymnastics, lion dances, magic, walking on stilts, and the solving of riddles. At my home, when I was a child living in China, we would eat tang-yuan -- sweet rice flour made into sticky balls filled with sesame, red-bean or peanut butter paste. The roundness and sweetness of the food symbolizes good luck and family union.
What inspires me the most about the Lantern Festival in ancient China is not the spectacles themselves, but the freedom that was allowed. In the past, people, particularly women, were not allowed to go places freely, especially after a certain time in the evening. Therefore this was the only day that women could dress up, go out and enjoy themselves.
The Lantern Festival was also a day for romance. In the guise of appreciating lanterns, young men and women could meet freely and fall in love.
Unfortunately, unlike romance novels, love during the Lantern Festival in ancient China did not always have happy endings. Thus the famous poem by Ouyang Xiu:
Last year during the Lantern Festival the evening was lit bright as day.
As the moon quietly rose above the willow branches, men and women had rendezvous in the twilight.
This year during the Lantern Festival, the moon and the lights were the same,
But the one I met last year is nowhere to be found, leaving only tears wetting my sleeves.
Mingmei Yip, http://www.mingmeiyip.com
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