As CNY (more commonly known around here as the ‘Spring Festival’) draws to a close, after a two week festive frenzy, I wanted to bring you a few snippets of the action from down town Xi’an. You have to see it to believe it! (Or perhaps that should be ‘hear’ it!)
(Before we go any further, best not to judge me on my video skills eh….ahem, I may have worked in television, but let’s just say the quality of my camerawork is a work in progress!)
So, we (surprisingly) woke up to snow falling spectacularly on the city this morning (sunshine was forecast)! For a new kid on the block like me, it’s a pretty incredible sight, made all the more extraordinary as it falls gently to the ground while in stark contrast, fire crackers bounce earnestly off the pavement! (And yes it’s legal in this city, for now!)
Watch your back, because it’s the culmination of China’s most important and auspicious calendar period (not to mention the longest) and is still very much shrouded in myths and tradition, that are every bit as signifcant as they were 2000 years ago (which means letting off firecrackers to scare off the ‘baddies’ is alive and well in down town Xi’an).
(If you want to know more about the importance of CNY customs, such as cleaning your house and wearing red knickers, just click here!)
Today is called the “Lantern Festival” – officially the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations (and the first full moon of the lunisolar year) marking the return of spring (and seemingly snow) and family reunions.
It used to be known as the Shàngyuán Festival – Shàngyuán means “Official of Heaven” and he was said to enjoy bright and joyful objects! As you do! So in keeping with tradition, it’s customary to hang thousands of colourful lanterns for people to appreciate. And let’s just say Xi’an doesn’t disappoint.
In ancient times on this day, children went out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and solving riddles on the lanterns! Today, riddles it seems are still very much part and parcel of the festivities…with locals getting a little bit giggly over the chance to solve the riddle of the day.
It’s also the only night of the year that ‘Yuan xiao’ (Tang yuan in the south) or ‘sweet dumplings’ are allowed to be eaten. These small sticky balls made of glutinous rice flour filled with sweet red bean paste, sesame paste, or even peanut butter are a fixture in every household, not to be missed out on by any means!
So, sit back and relax….take a look at some of the shenanigans that went on over the last two weeks here in North West China………
As soon as the clock struck midnight on the first day of CNY…..it was on. And let’s just say new comers (like myself) could probably be forgiven for believing Xi’an had eerily become a war-zone! (Have a listen.)
Fireworks sang out brilliantly across the night sky………
And firecrackers bounced fervently off every corner, literally exploding across city streets! To say the noise was deafening is not an exaggeration of my excited imagination….and forget about sleep because it went on for hours….. and ‘on and off’ for days after! It’s quite normal to be driving along a busy street and suddenly hear the blast of firecrackers beside you.
Traditional Lion Dances of course, rocked the city (as they do in almost every Asian city at this time of the year)! Vibrantly coloured lions snap up lettuces tied to red packets of Hong Bao left, right and centre in an enthusiastic display which is believed to bestow good luck and prosperity on your businesses. This charged lion went clanging through the hotel, careful not to miss any room with the potential to make money!
Street parties took pride of place – especially in our ‘hood and they came from far and wide across China in their droves to celebrate!
Street food is the staple diet and let me say, beware of the spear-like skewers eagerly snapped up by every man and his dog! Lethal weapons in the making!
Vivid red lanterns were strung beautifully across the city, lining every single street; and there was a stunning show of lights and giant eye catching lanterns in every shape and colour making their mark on the majestic city wall.
So, until next year… may the Year of the Sheep be kind to you with lots of good fortune, health and happiness.
If you don’t mind, I’m off to eat sticky rice balls and let off a few fire crackers for good measure!
This is China.