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Scent of Spring Festival is in the air
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The spring holiday can be more than banquets with families and friends, lazing around on sofas watching TV soaps and surfing the Internet. There are plenty of activities that happen during the spring festival, such as temple fairs.

Baiyunguan: touring on a donkey

Baiyunguan is the biggest Taoist temple in northern China. From the beginning of the first month of the lunar year, the temple holds a fair for 18 and a half days. It is the longest temple fair in Beijing.

The Baiyunguan Temple Fair began in Yuan Dynasty (1206-1370), and its apex was at the end of Ming and start of Qing Dynasty. At first, the fair was a small one with scattered performances limited to the gate. Starting from Ming Dynasty, activities increased both inside and out.

The temple has hidden reliefs of stone monkeys on its walls, though during the temple fair, occasional queues of people waiting to touch could ruin the fun of finding the reliefs. People believe touching the monkeys can bring luck and fortunate.

The temple's bridge is another popular stop. Two large, bronze coins hang from the bridge with a small bell in the center. Peope throw coins to strike the bell for good luck.

Baiyunguan is also a place to ride donkeys. In ancient times, due to bad traffic, people usually went to temple fair by donkey. Though many people today have cars, you can still tour the fair on one of the temple's donkeys.

Changdian: oldest temple fair

The Changdian Temple Fair is one of the city's oldest, and has been held to celebrate the fesival for 400 years. It began in Ming Dynasty (1368-1683) and reached its apex during the Qianlong Emperor's rein (1735-1795).

The fair is held yearly, and opens on the first day of the first lunar month and continues for half the month: it remains Beijing's largest fair.During Yuan Dynasty (1206-1370), the government used the area to build kilns to fire glazed tiles, called liuli in Chinese. Its history of tile firing is why the area is known today as Liulichangdian.

There were three temples in the Changdian area. During the first month of the lunar year, vendors and crowds gathered there for Buddhist ceremonies.

Changdian is close to the center of the city, so lots of people, old and young, like to visit its fair during Spring Festival.

The fair focuses on ancient culture, including books, calligraphy and paintings. Traditional snacks and toys are also popular, and the area's laozihao stores provide traditional cultural performances at the fair.

Longtanhu: sporty temple fair

The 25th Longtanhu Temple Fair will be held next Spring Festival. The huahui competition, where people perform different characters in historical stories, folk tales and real life, is one of its main highlights.

The competition was first organized in 1987, and in 1996, teams from Hong Kong, Macao and Japan participated for the first time.

Another feature of the Longtanhu Temple Fair is the sports competitions. Winter swimming, Chinese martial arts, wrestling, taekwondo and xiangqi, or Chinese chess, competitions have been held with professional players from national teams invited to compete with visitors.

For this year's competition, the focus will be on the Olympic Games. The park organizers are planning a large competition field for this year which wil include 28 sports and activities.

Ditan: worshiping the earth

This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the Ditan Temple Fair. The Land Worship Ceremony held on the first day of the lunar year by the temple organizers is an important part of the fair.

The ceremony is held as it was during the Qing Dynasty. People gather at the offering platform to wait for it to start. Since the ceremony resumed in 1990, it has drawn hundreds of people every year.

Before it starts, the four corners of the platform are used for opera, dance and acrobatic performances. Actors play the role of the emperor and his officials and perform the full nine stages of the worship ceremony.

The Ditan Temple Fair draws more than the local snack vendors: foods from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Sichuan Province are readily available. Listening to the shouts of folk artists hawking their goods is a way to travel back to the city's past.

The game rooms also feature many traditional toys. Whether you've seen them before or not, you can come to try them out and learn how children played in the past.

It seems the Ditan Temple Fair is turning into a costume ball because many visitors buy masks and hats. There are lots of snacks, but they cost a lot and don't taste that great. The games were mostly similar to the ones you would find at any Carnival.

(Beijing Today January 31, 2008)

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