With the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year celebrations coming to a close, we’ve been reminiscing a bit about our time in China. While our celebration lasted only a day here in the U.S., it was at least a weeklong affair back in China, where the Spring Festival is far and away the most important holiday of the year.
Around this time last year, we found ourselves at a temple fair in the middle of bustling Chengdu, in Sichuan Province. While Chinese New Year is not generally a good time to travel in China (as everyone ELSE in the country is also traveling), Judy and I had already had a couple of Beijing New Year’s celebrations under our belts and decided to experience the holiday in a different environment.
Temple fairs during Chinese New Year are traditional and cultural events that are a must-see if you find yourself in China during this holiday. In any given city, there are usually multiple temple fairs going on throughout the two weeks after Chinese New Year’s Day.
The environment at Chengdu’s temple fairs were fairly different from Beijing’s. The temple fairs in Beijing were a bit more modern and commercial–they had almost a carnival atmosphere, with games and activities for families, cheap souvenirs, and “old Beijing” street food that wasn’t actually all that great.
The Wuhou temple fair in Chengdu, however, had more of an old-school air to it. The Wuhou temple fair actually dates back a couple thousand years to the Qin dynasty, and special attention is paid to traditional cultural elements and activities.
Chinese lanterns are a big New Year’s tradition, and they’re found everywhere (including a couple droopy paper ones we put up in our apartment), but the lanterns we saw in Chengdu were exceptional. They even included life-sized lanterns that were crafted into traditional Spring Festival scenes.
This was all part of the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar calendar, and it marks the last day of the Chinese New Year Festival. In Beijing, the Lantern Festival didn’t seem all that festive. The fact is, the city largely empties during the holidays, because everyone leaves to go back to their home towns and villages. By the time the Lantern Festival rolled around, everyone was either just getting back to Beijing or still traveling. Needless to say, in Chengdu, we were thrilled to finally see such intricate, traditional lanterns.
They were so colorful and beautiful in the night, and they brought back some great childhood memories for Judy and created some life-long ones for me as well. As you can see from the pictures, it’s best to visit this temple fair at night, as the entire place was lit up!
Perhaps the one downside to all this was the crowds…
But one forgets all that when one has food on the brain. Here’s a great photo of an artisan in decorative candy making. It’s definitely not something you see everyday. Much like a glassblower would do, these guys actually use piping hot sugar to create intricate animal shapes.
Check out this super-cool video of one artisan in action making these. Keep in mind that he’s dealing with HOT sugar there, and he has to form those shapes really quickly, before it hardens.
In terms of savories, they had some local specialties that were quite new to us. Here are some of the food stands we ventured by.
Cumin fried potatoes…who can resist these?
A Sichuan favorite – rabbit heads. We’ll leave those to Andrew Zimmern!
This stand served spiced tofu and sticky rice snacks…
And cumin/five spice ribs that were quite tasty!
It was a perfect temple fair experience and a great prelude to the Lantern Festival. I don’t remember ever seeing so many lanterns in one night!