When we arrived at Quanzhou, it was the 15th day of the first lunar month--Yuanxiao Jie, known as the lantern Festival. Each year, there is an exhibition of coloured lanterns at night. Every family hangs red lanterns over their gates. Children carry all kinds of coloured laternns and in streets and squares, coloured lantern sheds are built for lantern exhibition. Everyone goes out to see the lanterns.
The city of Quanzhou in southern Fujian is shaped like a carp. The main street, five kilometres in length, runs across the city. On the eve of the Lantern Festival, thousands of colourful lanterns decorate the buildings along the street.
The Lantern Festival is a traditional festival in China. The way of making the lanterns differs according to the natural environment. Lanterns are different in the north and the south. In Northern Shaanxi Province, women in the countryside use sorghum stalks to make lantern frames, then they paste red paper on the frames. In this way, they make all sorts of lanterns, such as pumpkin lanterns, persimmon lanterns and sheep lanterns. They also cut potatoes into a bowl shape. Then they put oil into the bowl-shaped potatoes and place lampwicks in them and cover the potatoes with red paper lampshades. People hang red lanterns over the gates of their cave dwellings. Willow trees are also decorated with coloured paper. Red lanterns are hung here and there on willow trees. The trees are called lantern trees or spark trees.
Beijing was the capital of several dynasties in Chinese history. On the Lantern Festival, all sorts of lanterns were hung in the palace. Artists made fancy lanterns, whose frames ere made with carved fine wood. They covered lanterns with silk, gauze, glass and sliced ox horn on which pictures of landscapes, flowers and birds were painted. At that Dengshikou (Lantern Fair Gateway) near Wangfujing Street was where lantern exhibitions were held at that time.
Harbin in North China is called an ice city. All sorts of lanterns are made there with ice. The sparking, crystal-clear lanterns are really beautiful.
Fujian has an abundance of rain, so the buildings on both sides of its streets all have overhanging upper storeys known as qi lou to shelter pedestrians from the rain. On the the Lantern Festival colourful lanterns are hung over the qi lou. Street sometimes have thousands of coloured lanterns hung along them.
Lanterns come in different shapes, such as bird, animal, flower and fish. Some lanterns are shaped like fruit, such as oranges, litchis, pineapples and others. Some are very modern like rocket and satellite lanterns. Fragrant smells waft in the breeze from the lanterns. Sandalwood incense is burned in octagonal palace lanterns.
Quanzhou has unique local customs. On the second day of the first lunar month, newly-married couples bring New Year's gifts to the woman's parents. When the couple returns home, the parents give them two lotus lanterns, one white and the other red. On the night of the Lantern Festival, the young couple hang them beside their bed, and the they light candles in the two lanterns. After that they wait and see which candle burns out first. If the candle in the white one burns out first, it means they will have a baby boy; if the candle in the red one burns out first, it means they will have a girl.
Fishermen have a preference for fish-shaped lanterns as a token of luck for a bumper catch.
In previous times, young women and men did not have free social contact. Therefore, the Lantern Festival became an opportunity to look for marriage partners. There is a famous love story from ancient times among the people of Quanzhou. At the Lantern Huang Wuniang. They fell in love at first sight. But Wuniang's father was greedy for San disguised himself as a tradesman who polished bronze mirrors. He went to Huang's home to polish their bronze mirrors. He went to Huang's home to polish their bronze mirror and broke the bronze mirror purposely. To pay for the mirror, he sold himself into the Huang family as a slave. By doing so, he had the chance to meet Wuniang secretly. At last he and Wuniang ran away from the family and got married.