Customs at Lantern Festival in Taizhou

(chinadaily.com.cn)

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Dragon dance [Photo/taizhou.com.cn]

It is enjoyable to view lanterns on the Lantern Festival. In the past, even very reclusive women would go outside to see them. According to Linhai Annals, which describes customs in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) under Emperor Kangxi's Reign, women could avoid disease and disaster by walking a hundred steps on the lantern festival evening. Children were happy to take part. They walked across streets and lanes with little lanterns depicting flowers, centipedes and fish. They even chased each other with rabbit lanterns on the crowded streets until midnight. Every household lit up candles and lamps at night, meaning "lighting every room".

There is a custom of inserting bamboos and hanging paper lanterns in front of ancestors' graves in the places near Yongjia County and Leqing in WenZhou, Zhejiang province on that evening. The paper lanterns are not bright, so people call the dim lamps "lanterns on the grave". However, the custom has faded away over the last fifty years.

In the past, Yuhuan natives sent lanterns to others at the Lantern Festival. The elders bought paper lanterns as gifts for children. Today, skillful people make fish lanterns, dragon lanterns, animal lanterns and flower lanterns on their own. Lanterns with candles inside are available for the children to play with and view. Children with various lanterns often throng around dragon dance teams.

"Waking up the God of Wealth" is one of the significant activities at the festival in Panshan village and Shitang town of Wenling. Before the festival, local shops and fish guilds draw lots to determine one or two principals, responsible for funding from every household. They make the statue and organize the drummers and porters. The God of Wealth refers to Zhao Xuantan, also known as "Marshal Zhao". The statue is generally made of sawali and painting cloth by pasting. It has a black face with a thick beard, with an iron crown on its head, an iron whip in its hands, and a black tiger under it. The statue of Marshall Zhao is called "The God of Wealth on a black tiger" as well. Then the statue is arranged in a recess, and carried by four robust men. A gong is stuck, and a reed pipe and silk string are played. Guided by the colorful flags and lanterns, the team lines up and moves on across streets and lanes.

Some people deliberately portray the god without ears. Whichever shop it passes, the shopkeeper has to fire a certain amount of firecrackers, trying to wake the god up, so that he can bring more good fortune to the people. That activity is called "To fire and refresh". Later, they burn paper and offer sacrifice, and send the god to other households. This custom has both superstitious and entertainment elements. People accepting the god often paid a big amount for this, so it didn't prevail after the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Around Shashan Mountain in Yuhuan Island, people from the south of Fujian province have the custom of "Shaking the bamboo" in the middle night of the Lantern Festival. Children privately go to the bamboo forest in midnight, picking up a tall and robust bamboo and shaking it, with their feet side by side and hands over their heads. At the same time, they sing "Shaking, shaking, I will grow as you do and next year I will catch you up".

Linhai, Huangyan district and Tiantai County retain the custom of eating fermented glutinous rice in the evening.

At Spring Festival, relatives and neighbors invite each other to have "New year's dinner" or "Spring wine", often before the twenty-fifth day of the first lunar month. A proverb in Wenling says "Wine and meat prohibited on fifteenth and sixteenth days". Yuhuan natives attach much importance to the fifth day of the first lunar month, on which people invite relatives and friends to parties and banquets. It is called "A big meal". Spring wine used to be a courtesy of kindness. Nowadays, it's a new year's party between classmates, military comrades and colleagues.

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