Just in time to ring in the lunar new year, QQ features photos from Spring Festival in decades past, as well as a write-up of older Chengdu residents' memories of Spring Festival during those times. We've loosely translated excerpts below:
From doing the New Year's shopping, making sausages, making the preparations to cure the meat to lighting the furnace, sweeping the floor, posting New Year's banners, and even after New Year's day passes, setting off firecrackers, visiting temples, performing lion and dragon dances, and going to see the lantern festivals—combine this all with the Chengdunese affinity for leisure time, and you would find them shamelessly holidaying until the cows come home on the 16th day of the new year.
During the early years of the 20th century, the Chengdunese would begin their winter offerings to their ancestors starting from the Winter Solstice, and then, after killing a pig, hang sausages to dry, filling every eave along the house and rack in the kitchen. Apart from the usual traditions that still hold today, Chengdu residents would go down to stroll along Dong Da Jie, which for many years was home to a large night market. Vendors lined both sides of the street, hawking their wares from dusk until nearly midnight, and Spring Festival shoppers knew to go there to bag a bargain.
Housewives would line up early to get into the open market at Yanshikou, where they would find special food items not available at the other markets, and neighbors would send out new year's greetings and well wishes to one another.
Children folded paper airplanes and picked fruit; boys rolled hoops and played with homemade slingshots while the girls played hopscotch and jump rope. On the last day of the Spring Festival celebrations, city residents young and old would gather at the old city walls for final festivities followed by the biggest meal of the year.
In old times, at every teahouse and book swap meet there would be folk performances to celebrate Yuanxiao Jie, or the Lantern Festival. It used to be that there were actually three lantern festivals in Chengdu annually: the Lotus Lantern Festival during the Clear and Bright Festival, the Chrysanthemum Lantern Festival during the ninth month of the lunar year, and the Yuanxiao Lantern Festival during the New Year holiday, which was the biggest of all.
The Lantern Festival is a longstanding tradition in Chengdu. From around 206 B.C. until nearly 1000 A.D., the festival was held every year. The tradition was reinstated in 1962 with a small, government-sanctioned festival at the Qingyang Temple. Entrance was 5 fen. In 1977, the festival was to be held at the Culture Park and despite the 1-mao entrance fee attracted an unexpected 130,000 visitors—so many that they had to flow out into several of the city's other parks.
Residents remember the snacks—sugar cane for 3 fen, a meat-stuffed flatbread for 5 fen, sticky rice, and candied fruits. In 1979, the Lantern Festival was temporarily suspended and restarted again only in 1980 after numerous letters and calls of complaint from city residents. In 2004, the festival was moved to the Tazishan Park, where it has been held ever since. This year marks the 44th modern Lantern Festival.
During the 1960s and '70s, the Shanghai White Rabbit milk candies were bestsellers at the Yanshikou People's Market. That candy is very common in every Hongqi and Huhui Supermarket, but in those days, people would dissolve five or six pieces of the candy in a pot of boiling water and drink it. It was said that the nutrition was equal to that of a glass of fresh milk.