Chu Shi Wu: Lantern Festival

Nicholas Quirke was celebrating the culmination of the New Year Spring Festival on 26 February 2021. The fifteenth day of the lunar calendar was the Lantern Festival and everywhere red paper, silk lanterns were strewn through the Hutongs and trees bringing colour to the greyest areas and bleak air. As early as the 206 BCE–25 CE it had become a festival with great significance where the lanterns symboliszed people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones. Of the many beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival the most likely is traced back more than 2,000 years ago and linked to the reign of Emperor Ming, an advocate of Buddhism, who ordered that all households follow the Monks practice of lighting lanterns on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. His favourite though was the legend of a beautiful crane that flew down to earth from heaven. After landing on earth it was hunted and killed by a band of villagers and this act deeply enraged the Jade Emperor that he planned a storm of fire to destroy the village on the fifteenth lunar day. The Jade Emperor’s daughter warned the inhabitants of the plan. The village was in turmoil because nobody knew how they could escape their imminent destruction. However, a wise man from another village suggested that every family should hang red lanterns around their houses, set up bonfires on the streets, and explode firecrackers on the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth lunar days. This would give the village the appearance of being on fire to the Jade Emperor. On the fifteenth lunar day, troops sent down from heaven whose mission was to destroy the village saw that the village was already ablaze, and returned to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor. Satisfied, the Jade Emperor decided not to burn down the village. From that day on, people celebrate the anniversary on the fifteenth lunar day every year by carrying lanterns on the streets and exploding firecrackers and fireworks. The lanterns are always red to symbolize good fortune and part of the celebration involves going out at night carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns unfortunately with the health risks this tradition was not happening in Beijing and instead, Nicholas and Peng were going top conduct their own private celebration. It was vital that he report to the police and get his accommodation certificate and he left the house early to get to get the chore out of the way. They planned to have lunch of Shang Guo at their favourite restaurant to serve this dish. However, it seemed that many people had the same idea as when they arrived at 12.15 there were no tables available and hey had to sit and wait outside. The desire for the food was great and though they had to bide their time for over 20 minutes in the open cool air it was worth the wait. As always the food was delicious and served with a soya milk that had a wonderful slightly burnt taste to it. It felt like a huge amount of food and they were stuffed by the time they finished and would not eat anymore that day. The resolution did not last long as once they sat down for tea at 1920 cafe biscuits and nuts were devoured and on the way home they stopped a Walmart, ostensibly for ginger but they came away laden with crisps, Tang Yuan and the northern China equivalent of glutinous rice balls Yuan Xiao which, were made by rolling the filling of nut, osmanthus, black sesame in the rice flour again and again which made for a heavier dish. When they were home they prepared for the evening entertainment and attached five riddles to each of the lanterns, they also had a prize attached to each outcome. Amidst a lot of laughter the answers were discovered and each ended up with a number of prizes from money various tasks. They cooked and ate the Yuan Xiao and settled down to watch a somewhat dull sci-fi film LX2048 which ended what had been an entertaining evening on a damp note. It did not stop him from sleeping once the time came to retire.

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