The Torch Festival is a traditional festival celebrated among some ethnic groups in southwestern China, such as the Yi, Bai, Hani, Lisu, Naxi, Pumi and Lahu etc. The festival features lighting up torches, hence its name. It usually falls in early June of the lunar calendar or on the 24th or 25th of the month, with three days of celebrations.
The origin of the festival may have something to do with the worship of fire by ancestors, who believed fire had the power to repel insects, drive away evils and to protect crop growth. For some ethnic groups, it is a tradition in the festival for elders to share farming experience with young people and educate them on taking care of crops.
Setting up Torch
The Bai celebrate the annual Torch Festival on the 25th of the sixth month of the Chinese lunar calendar in a special way. They wear costumes and butcher pigs and sheep for a feast. Children dye their fingernails red with a kind of flower root. On the eve of the festival, people get everything ready for the big celebration. They set up a large torch about 20 meters high made of stalks and pine branches. On the top of the torch sits a large flag. Several small flags are fixed around the torch, printed with auspicious Chinese characters meaning peaceful land, favorable weather, bumper harvest, and abundant farm animals. Fruits, fireworks, and lanterns are hung around the torch.
Worshipping Ancestors and Horse Riding
The next day, people first go to their ancestors’ tombs and hold a memorial ceremony, bringing offerings and burning small torches and papers that symbolize money. People have dinner earlier than usual. Then, after dinner, the young and the old gather at the village square to watch the big torch and go horse riding. Both adults and children take part in the horse riding. Before they ride away, they go around the torch three times. Those who don’t ride the horse go home to enjoy the torches in front of the houses and then select the most beautiful torch of the village. Young mothers carry babies on their back and walk around the village torch three times to pray for the health of their babies.
At nightfall, the senior people of the village lead the other villagers to offer sacrifices to the torch and to kowtow. After this is done, several young men climb up the torch and light it. In no time, a flame rages, accompanied by drumbeats and the sound of firecrackers. Such a spectacular scene it is! As the fire continues, broken bamboo sticks fall to the ground and people try their best to catch them. Those who catch the sticks are thought of as lucky and are warmly congratulated. The lucky ones entertain the other villagers at their homes with cigarettes, wine, and tea.
The festival reaches its climax with the traditional torch playing. Young men and women hold a torch. When they meet someone, they scatter colophony powder onto the torch fire and the fire flares up. People think this expels whammy from their bodies. Then, young people go to the farms and fields with the torch in the hope of eliminating pests. Near the end of the celebration, people lay torches on the ground and set them on fire. Now it is time for people to jump over the fire three times, one by one. They jump and pray to the god of fire for security and good luck. Finally, they go home filled with excitement and the celebration ends.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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