Every February the Spring Lantern Festival is celebrated across China.
The event is a spectacular display of locals going out into the streets with self-made lanterns, with designs ranging from traditional dragons to Michael Jackson and Mickey Mouse.
The night is full of activity with most people celebrating outside. Visitors will see singing, dancing and large food stalls nearly everywhere.
A traditional, sweet dumpling called yuanxiao is served on the date of the festival, which is the 15th day of the first month on the lunar calendar, or February 12.
Some people say that the lanterns are made to protect against being taken by ghosts who descend from the skies during the full moon of February, which is the first full moon of the Chinese New Year. Other Chinese people believe that the lanterns help show the spirits the way by to their world.
Perhaps the most historic explanation relates to the Jade Emperor, ruler of the heavens, who wanted revenge for the killing of his goose. The Emperor planned to set the man’s house on fire, but a spirit managed to warn the man and told him to hang lanterns outside his home on the first full moon of the year. When the Emperor saw the house he thought it was already on fire and left.
In the end it is a celebration of good fortune and also a traditional time when young lovers meet. In many ways it has become China’s version of Valentine’s Day, but isn’t even close to being as commercialized as the western celebration.
While the lantern parades take place all over the country, some of the best lanterns can be seen in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.
Even better news is that American Airlines and United are currently engaged in a fierce competition for the Chinese market.
Currently United Airlines offers the most flights between the US and China, with daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai, and is hoping to add a route to Guangzhou in 2006.
But American is trying hard to capture the emerging Chinese market with new daily flights between Chicago and Shanghai. Delta Airlines recently opened a ticketing office in Beijing and hopes to have a route connecting Atlanta and the Chinese capital before the 2008 Olympics.