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UPDATED: June 20, 2014 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 20, 2014
In Love With the Past
China greets its Lantern Festival holding a bouquet of red roses behind its back
By Pan Xiaoqiao

LANTERNS ON DISPLAY: People enjoy the lanterns for Yuanxiao Festival at Temple of Confucius in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province on February 12, two days before the festival (XINHUA)

This year, the traditional Chinese holiday Yuanxiao Festival, or the Lantern Festival, coincided with the Western holiday of Valentine's Day. As the holiday approached, chocolates and lanterns were stockpiled in supermarkets, as they are best sellers in this period. These two holidays cross paths only once every 19 years and will not do so again until 2033.

Yuanxiao Festival, also known as the Lantern Festival, falls on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month.

As a matter of fact, some Chinese have begun to celebrate the Yuanxiao Festival as China's Valentine's Day. More evidence has shown that during ancient times, this festival would offer young people opportunities to meet each other and search for romance, at a time when the only other path to marriage was through following parents' orders.

Chen Pei'ai, a professor from Xiamen University, said Yuanxiao Festival is not just about lanterns or moons. He expressed his support for Yuanxiao Festival as being the Chinese Valentine's Day on the newspaper Strait Herald.

By eating yuanxiao, a type of glutinous rice ball, people mean to cherish unity and sweetness in life. "Isn't this also what young lovers pursue?" Professor Chen argues. It is also a romantic experience for young lovers to spend the night together in streets or parks lit up by beautiful lanterns. This would be a good way to strengthen sentimental connection and affection toward each other, said Chen.

Many of China's classic romantic stories tend to be set on the night of Yuanxiao Festival. One such story tells of a woman who spotted a man among the many people out appreciating the lanterns, and she found herself instantly mesmerized. She would deliberately drop her handkerchief or other items in front of the man and pretended that she did this carelessly, smiling at him as she did, in the hope of captivating him. Finally, in order to cure the man of his resulting lovesickness, his parents searched for the woman and proposed her marriage to their son. Romantic stories of this festival are frequently seen in ancient poems.

Traditional customs

China is a vast country with a long history, and the customs of Yuanxiao Festival differ across the nation, but lanterns, riddles and eating yuanxiao are commonly practiced everywhere.

The most prominent activity is the display of lanterns, which is why it is commonly known as the Lantern Festival outside of China. Streets are lit up by a variety of lanterns under the full moon, while the night sky is lit up with fireworks.

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