Sunday, February 21, 2016

Auckland Lantern Festival

This weekend we attended the Auckland Lantern Festival.  The Festival is one of the biggest and most popular cultural events in Auckland and celebrates the region’s vibrant ethnic diversity with thousands of people attending the event daily.
It is said that the holiday evolved from an ancient Chinese belief that celestial spirits could be seen flying about in the light of the first full moon of the lunar calendar.
People used torches and eventually lanterns of every shape, size and color to aid them in spotting the spirits.
The lanterns come in all shapes and sizes. Some are created in the form of animals, insects, flowers, people or even machines and buildings. Others depict scenes from popular stories teaching filial piety and traditional values. A favorite subject is the zodiac animal of the year, which in 2016 will be the monkey.


Lantern Festivals have been part of Chinese New Year celebrations since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-221 AD) and are usually held on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar which marks the end of New Year festivities.
The Lantern Festival is also popularly referred to as the Chinese Valentine’s Day because in days of old it gave girls and boys a rare chance to go out in the evening without chaperons. Today Lantern Festivals are held each year in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan to mark the end of Chinese New Year celebrations.
Part of the lantern festival tradition involves a game to guess riddles attached to the lanterns. In the old days the riddles were drawn from the Chinese classics and so were mainly the preserve of the educated classes.
"Over time, the Foundation has built up a large collection of lanterns. The lanterns that appear at both festivals (here in Auckland and a similar one in Christchurch) now fill more than 20 shipping containers. Visitors to this year’s Auckland festival would be unlikely to recognize it as the same festival that was held in 2000, which was pieced together from secondhand lanterns from the Jurong Gardens in Singapore" (Asia New Zealand Foundation).

Chinese culture is full of ancient traditions, which have been used to shape the Auckland Lantern Festival over the years.

"Like most Chinese festivals, the Lantern Festival has its own special foods. including tang yuan (or yuan xiao in Northern China)— round glutinous rice dumplings with sweet or salty fillings. The shape of the dumplings symbolize both the first full moon and family unity"  (AucklandNZ.com).
This was just one of the many offering available from the LONG row of food stalls.  We sampled a few things, of course.

There were also many different performances throughout the festival, both music and dance.  I loved watching some of the traditional dances and chatting with some of the dancers as they waited for their turn to go on stage.

The whole event was fascinating for me as a once-upon-a-time Sociologist.   I enjoyed watching the people attending as much as I liked watching the performances.

However, as much as I like people watching, we left fairly early as the crowd continued to grow more and more dense as the evening wore on.  People were pouring in by the hundreds.  By the time we left around 6:00 PM we felt like salmon swimming upstream as we slowly made our way up the path to the exit against the flow of far more still entering the domain.  We were happy to get back on the bus to head home.  We were glad to have had the chance to see it all and just as glad to call it a night.
One of the things I appreciate best about living in New Zealand has been the opportunity to be in such a culturally diverse population and witness how the various groups here truly seem to appreciate each other.  I love the feeling of synergy that comes when people of many different backgrounds with different ideas, customs, beliefs and ways of living come together with mutual respect.

It isn't quite like the Zion people described in 4 Nephi:

They lived as one people and were all known as the “people of Nephi” (4 Ne. 1:10); and they ceased to recognize any distinctions among themselves, so that not only were there no Lamanites, there were no “-ites” of any kind, “but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Ne. 1:17). 
Here, the distinctions between groups are very evident, and there are a substantial number of people who do not base their lives on the teaching of Christ.  Still, for the most part we have found there be almost no racial tension or sense of disharmony between classes.  In that way it is very different from the United States.  Living here has shown us how people of different faiths, different ethnicity, different values really can peacefully co-exist and build strong communities together.
As this last 8 months of our mission winds down we continue to savor every opportunity to participate in the cultural aspects of living in New Zealand, weaving these experiences together with the spiritual highlights we get from our Family History trainings.   Both sorts of opportunities are melding together to make this whole Mission experience something that will shape our views and values for all the rest of our days.

No comments:

Post a Comment