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Chinese New Year is a colorful spectacle befitting the changing of the seasons. Unlike most of the world's New Year's Eve parties, this celebration turns over a new leaf with a warm welcome to a season of light, bloom and harvest. Travelers who wish to partake in one of China's most famous festivals can still enjoy the low-key but culturally authentic temple fairs of Beijing, where there's feasting, dancing, folk art and plenty of brilliant decoration.
History of the fairs
According to the China National Tourism Administration, Beijing's temple fairs date back at least a thousand years, when vendors sold their wares near Buddhist and Taoist temples to attract the business of pilgrims who traveled to pay tribute, especially at the time of large festivals. Eventually the vendors became an institution during those celebrations, and temple fairs, once known as a Spring Outings, were born.
The temple fairs today are still in large part constituted of vendors selling food as well as arts and crafts. Joining the celebration, however, are plenty of games, performances, ceremonies and art exhibitions. Dancing in particular provides one of the most intriguing cultural insights, as many fairs host a slew of annual rituals and folk performances. Immediately recognizable are the iconic dragon and lion dances, though other events include waist drum dancing and even acrobatics.
Where to go
Beijing is host to more than a few temple fairs, many of which vary in size and events. The Ditan Temple fair is among the most commonly frequented festivals, according to China.org.cn. After the exhibitions, ice lanterns and fashion shows, the Temple of Earth will reach the climactic ending of the festival with a reenactment of a Qing Dynasty sacrificial ceremony. There will also be tea serving ceremonies, folk flower fairs and even karaoke. The Longtan temple fair is another popular event that is an especially family friendly affair that has some of the more playful events, including arm-wrestling, table-tennis and rock climbing. Additionally, there will be more serious artistic demonstrations in the form of opera shows, Judo and wrestling competitions.
One of the oldest fairs is located at the Dongyue temple, having seen its heyday in the much older Ming and Qing dynasties more than 400 years ago. Possibly the most historic fair, however, is at Lianhuachi Park. With a history spanning over 3,000 years, the park is considered the birthplace of Beijing, and the festival is appropriately traditional, featuring over 100 events in the park alone.
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