Lantern Festival was a few weeks ago, but the event was such an interesting part of my China experience thus far, I figured writing about it is a better late than never endeavor. Lantern Festival (元宵节) is something that I vaguely remember celebrating as a child. Mostly, my mother would make delicious 汤圆 (glutton rice balls) and we watched some TV programming. Oh, and we were able to buy cool plastic lanterns to walk around the streets with at night!
In China, this mode of celebration didn’t appear to be too different (although, I didn’t see too many lantern-selling happening). Except, being in a major city, there is actually a display of colorful lanterns. At the last minute, I decided it was a good idea to brave the crowd and to check out this event at Yuyuan Garden. Boy, what an experience THAT was.
Much like going to the temple on Chinese New Year’s eve, I felt like I was participating in a truly “local” event. Of all the years of celebrating Lantern Festival, I never actually went to see lanterns before. So, a part of me was actually quite excited by this event. As I got off of the subway stop at Yuyuan Garden, I could feel the energy. As we approached the area, I began to see lovely lanterns lining the streets! The excitement was building up. We bought tickets (surprisingly efficient given how many people were attending), and entered the garden.
Not long upon entering into the garden, all of my excitement quickly reached the climax and crashed. A few months ago, upon arrival to China, I braved the Beijing rush hour, and back then, I described it as the most crowded I’ve ever felt. Well, that, was nothing compare to how I felt at the Lantern Festival. For a good half-mile, I had no control over my own two feet. I was merely being pushed by the crowd. There were just simply So. Many. People. It is quite impossible to enjoy anything the minute you lose the ability to control your own two feet.
The crowd aside, the festival was actually really interesting. The lights were naturally Snake themed given that is the animal of the year in Chinese Astrology. Snack vendors lined the garden, and festive music set the mood (although, they could use some more variety, the same three songs got pretty old after a short while). I was quite impressed at the scale and intricacy that went into various sets of lights and the stories being portrayed. But above all, I was most amused at how Pepsi, undoubtedly the sponsor of the event, managed to place its product throughout the production. There is something really ironic about this level of capitalistic behavior in China.
In the end, the entire experience would have been much more enjoyable if there were 1/4 as many people as there were present, but unfortunately, there is not too much anyone can do about it. If you live in China and has avoided any of these crowded events like the plague, I actually think it’s worth a visit just once. It’s one thing to imagine this level of crowd, and it is entirely another to experience. Like all things, it’s worth the experience!