I was lucky enough to arrive in Chengdu just before Chinese New Year, and when I was there it happened to be the year of the Horse. I’m sorry to say, but our celebration of New Year does not come close to how the Chinese celebrate the lunar New Year. It is celebrated over 16 days, from New Year’s Eve to The Lantern Festival, complete with feasts, decorations, fun clothing, and gift giving (i.e money). We didn’t have classes for over a week, almost directly followed by spring break, so that’s also a really good reason to spend your spring semester in China.
But for me, the most fun I had by far, was gathering and setting off my arsenal of fireworks. Around Chinese New Year, we couldn’t walk through the city for 2 blocks without seeing a firework tent on the corner. I grabbed a huge trash bag, and after swinging by Brittany’s room to see if she would like to join me, we set out to buy as many fireworks as we could carry.
I bought 8 roman candles, a huge pile of sparklers, about 50 feet of firecrackers, three medium-sized fireworks that were shaped like pyramids, and one large one; it was a box that measured about 2 feet on all sides, with one large fused taped down on top. The Chinese people I passed on the street got a kick out of seeing two black women walking by hauling all these fireworks, me excited and laughing in a way that was probably misconstrued as diabolical.
I would set all of mine off on the night of The Lantern Festival, but throughout those 16 days of celebration I would hear firecrackers and fireworks being set off at all hours of the night. Anywhere else it might have been frightening seeing sudden flashes of light at ground level all around the city, but I can remember one night after I had gotten out of the shower and looked out the window to find the night illuminated by all kinds of celebratory lights…such a beautiful sight.
Apparently the Chinese government had outlawed fireworks the same year, but it appeared to be more of a guideline than anything else because there were cops patrolling the streets as everyone set theirs off, just casually watching the revelry that ensued. I set off my big one on campus, just in front of the administrative building. About 20 of my classmates came to do the same or watch. Thinking about the moment where you light the fuse and then run away laughing still makes me giggle today.
By the end of the night, the AQI in Chengdu was over 500 due to all the smoke from various explosives, and the streets were covered in soot, wrappers, and fuses. I knew of a few people who spent the entire night walking Jingli Street, or drinking and clubbing, but I was content with returning to my room in the not so wee hours of the night, ready to start the new year.