Two weeks ago I took part in the Lantern Festival here in Wuxi.  Whoopie!  Celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the lunisolar calendar, the Chinese take a brief pause in their packed lives to gather, eat, and set the night ablaze with lanterns.

I pestered my friends to join me at a Xihui Park in Wuxi, at the crest of Huishan Mountain.

The festival’s origins are as multi-layered as Spring Festival, with mythology tightly woven in the cloth of a crimson lantern.

Some myths say the festival was meant to culminate with the first full moon of the lunisolar year, others speak of the Jade Emperor’s anger at villagers who killed his favorite animal, a crane.  The Emperor planned to destroy the village with hellfire, when a wise, elderly man (why is it always an old guy?) counseled the village to set off firecrackers and light the entire village with lanterns to make it appear as though it was already in flames.  This ruse worked, saving the village.

Another one I like is the association to Taoism.  The Taoist god for good fortune is Tianguan and ironically, his birthday falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month.  To appease and please, devotees coordinate various activities to bring good fortune.

Either way, I got my fill of lanterns, lanterns, lanterns!

Silky red lanterns on display at Xihui — early evening

Xihui Park is a vast area in the west side Wuxi (apparently 687 mu) with some historic key points to marvel at or puzzle at, because many signs are in Chinese and my character reading is shoddy at best.  There’s Jichang Park from the Ming Dynasty and No. 2 Fountain under Heaven of the Tang Dynasty and Huishan Temple, the oldest temple in the city, clocking at 1,500 years.

An ancient city was reconstructed from dilapidated building and has become a major thoroughfare to gawk at historical Chinese architecture and shop for trinkets (I must caution, usually junk oriented stuff).

That night, families and friends came together for entertainment, street food and performances.

Teardrop lantern hanging in the reconstructed ancient town

A classic style roof beautified by lanterns

Backlighting the trees cast a shimmer on these lanterns

A common dish to nibble on at the festival is glutinous rice balls steeped in a sweet sauce, sometimes sesame or brown sugar based.

My friend Josh munching on balls

Some unforgettable faces.

Dragon dancer

This smiley lady was giving drumming lessons to kids

She was intensely into the performances

When we finally got to the temple area, it was an orgy of food, lanterns and worship.

Honoring Buddha’s teachings with candle light

So many!

Not strictly eaten during The Lantern Festival, Chòu dòufu is a common dish in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  To translate, chòu dòufu = stinky tofu.  It’s fermented tofu that is deep fried and sprinkled with a chili sauce.  My street food chef also added some unknown pearly, white sauce that I couldn’t identify, but I went with it.

It tasted crispy with a zap, not pungent like a man’s sweaty squash shoes.  In other words, I give it an endorsement.  Try it if you’re ever in China.

Flavoring my chòu dòufu

Swaying in the night breeze

There was a large table in a square lit with lotus candles 

And it was his job to keep them glowing

Performances in China permeate a staged quality, almost kitsch and Vegas at the same time.  If you were a fan of all things adorable, you could call these displays ‘cute’.

A women’s dance troupe dressed up as all 12-Chinese zodiac signs

In the temple area, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the instruments of a religion dating back 2,440 years.

Three sticks of incense signify the Buddhist Triple Gem and the lotus candles symbolize bodhi 

Referred to as Marici Deva in China, she is considered the goddess of light and a guardian from the fury of war

One last look