打灯笼 Carrying Lanterns

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In Shanxi province, China, there's a tradition where uncles will gift their nieces and nephews lanterns - usually 2 of the lanterns paired with 10 candles, for 12 consecutive years. The little kids will gather with their friends to carry the lanterns around and play.

On the 5th day of New Year, a little girl named 招娣 receives a pair of lanterns from her maternal uncle, just like in years past. That very evening, she carries her lantern with the other kids, being careful not to slip on snowy ground. When her flame extinguishes, 招娣 uses a small candle to borrow her friend's flame to relight her own. Over the next few days, she would carry lanterns with her friends.

The 15th day of the Lunar New Year 元宵节 came, and 招娣 was awakened by firecrackers. She laments that the new year is coming to an end too soon, with a sense of emptiness within. That evening would be their last time playing with lanterns for the year. After the kids carried their lanterns as how they did in previous nights, there was a custom on the 15th night where kids would bang their lanterns against each other, and allow the lanterns to burn into ashes.

That night as she lay in her bed with tears in her eyes, 招娣 wished that the new year festivities would never end. She reminisced the warm flickering glow of her lanterns, and recalled feeling sad that same day the previous year. She soon remembers that there'll be another New Year next year and drifts off to sleep with hope, with a smile.

One scene that left a deep impression on me, is when the children huddled around 招娣 to block the wind till the flame is safely lit. It reminded me of birthday gatherings in my family where we would dim the lights, and light the birthday candles. Sometimes if the fan is on or if it's a particularly windy day, it'll be challenging to light the birthday candle.

When our kids leave our nest years later, what would they remember of their childhood? I hope they will remember that every time the Chinese festivals roll around, our family would gather and celebrate in ways big or small. I wonder what my kids will tell their kids about the festivals in years to come! I may or may not be around then, but I hope that my children will remember the fun and love we had.

Many books about Chinese New Year shine the spotlight on the exciting festivities that usually occur around the first few days, like reunion dinner, receiving red packets and New Year visitations. This book 《打灯笼》 explores the quieter days of CNY instead, so I find it really special.

I'm amazed by the powerful storytelling through descriptive text and beautiful illustrations. We can almost feel the cold, and it's as though we're there watching the kids playing lanterns!

Some may find this title irrelevant to our local culture, but I find it breath of fresh air to see how Chinese around the world share our same culture in varied ways. As we read and reflect how others celebrate CNY, we get the chance to appreciate common ground and also celebrate our differences.

Another heartwarming masterpiece by 朱成梁 on Chinese New Year is《团圆》 A New Year's Reunion - one of my favorite reads, in season and out of season!

Suitable for ages: 3-8
Format: Hardcover

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