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Lantern Festival Revelry and Romance
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The air in China on Sunday was not only filled with the strong smell of firecrackers, but also the fragrance of flowers to celebrate the Lantern Festival, the last day of the Chinese Lunar New Year festive season, also known as the Spring Festival.


The bang of firecrackers and colorful fireworks displays filled the Sunday night sky in Beijing as people scrambled to set them off for the last time this year.


Beijing, along with several other cities, lifted a 12-year ban on fireworks in the urban areas following public demand but only for the duration of the Lunar New Year festivities. For thousands of years, the Chinese have set off fireworks during the Spring Festival to ward off evil.


But they were banned in 1994 because of the high casualty rate.


"It's like being a child again. Watching lantern shows, burning firecrackers and eating 'yuan xiao' (or sweet dumplings) with the whole family. That's the way to spend a New Year," said Ying Sheng, a Beijing citizen studying at a local college.


The Beijing municipal government, however, was still on high alert. More than 150,000 people and 600 police cars were patrolling the city on Sunday night, according to the municipal government.


Firecrackers and happy reveling aside, there is also a romantic side to the Spring Festival. The Lantern Festival, celebrated on the last day of the Lunar New Year festivities, is considered to be China's Valentine's Day.


In ancient China, girls seldom left their houses in accordance with traditional moral codes, but they were allowed to watch lantern shows during the Lantern Festival, a rare chance for the ancient Chinese young people to look for their "Mr. or Miss Right".


In Haikou, Hainan Province, young people celebrated the night in the traditional way, by exchanging flowers during the lantern show.


At 7 p.m. Sunday, Xiao Li was waiting for his girlfriend at the gate of the Wanlu Park, with a red rose in his hand. The 24-year-old young man was planning to propose.


"I hope she will say 'yes' and I chose today to make the proposal because I believe the tradition can bring us luck and happiness," Xiao Li said.


(Xinhua News Agency February 13, 2006)


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