Monday, February 13, 2006

Taiwan, Full Moons, and Laterns

Yup, I miss Taiwan. Last night the moon as nearly full... which means the Latern Festival is over now back on Taiwan. It is a time of celebration and family gathering, and bowls of sweet rice dumpling soup.

My earliest memory of a Latern Festival involves my mother explaining that it always occurred on a full moon. I remember looing at the full moon suspended in the sky, marveling at the size of it, the brightness of it. Everybody would turn off their houselights, so interference from light polution was minimal. The full moon of the Latern Festival, dressed by the array of stars unveiled in the night sky, was always best during New Year.

I remember building paper laterns as a child. We worked with thin bamboo sticks and wax paper... there were simple ones, such as the boxes, and the slightly more advanced (and rather popular) spheres. You could purchase elaborate dragon-shaped laterns, which my mother bought for me one year.

Chinese parents trusted their children with firecrackers and candles, at least during the New Year. It was fund chasing each other around under a full moon, showing off our laterns, playing hid-and-seek, and exploring hills and streams that seemed much more exotic by moon lantern light.

As I grew up, paper laterns and candles gave way to molded plastic and flashlights. Sure, the traditional shapes were still available, but by my early teen years, an entire generation of children were growing up without ever building their own latern.

Granted, we spared all future generations the pain of watching your lovingly constructed latern go up in flames; that happens when you don't trim the wick, or tilt it wrong... :D Still, on the balance of things, I think Chinese children these days are missing out, if they even still celebrate the Latern Festival with actual kids carrying actual lanterns around at night.

I think I'll go home and listen to Dizi solos and dream of a starry night sky.

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