Yesterday was the first official day of Spring Festival, China's most important and widely celebrated holiday.  What they don't have at Christmas they more than make up for during this time.

Decorations and fireworks have been for sale on the streets for about 3 weeks.  Every night when I looked out my window I noticed more and more red lanterns appearing in apartment windows.  Last night it looked like about 1/2 of all the windows either had the lanterns or strings of red lights in them.  People have been haphazardly setting off firecrackers all along.  We walk down the street and hear a string of them going off.  Nobody lights them just one at a time, they usually ignite the entire string (and often in a bucket by the sound of it).  Yesterday about noon it started to sound a lot like a war zone, firecrackers were being lit everywhere.  Then last night....oh my gosh!  You should have seen and heard it!

If you can imagine the entire population of Tulsa, Oklahoma (plus a few of it's suburbs) crammed into a town the size of Stillwater, Oklahoma (can you tell I'm an Okie), all living in 6 and 7 story apartment buildings, setting off about $5000.00 worth of fireworks EACH you might begin to imagine what it was like here.  The festivities really heated up at dark (6ish).  The campus of Liaoning Institute of Technology is located on the north edge of town and sits atop a slight hill.  Our new apartment has huge southern facing windows and we're living on the 6th floor so we had a wonderful bird's eye view.  Everywhere you looked there were aerial displays going up.  These weren't organized affairs by the Lion's Club or other philanthropic organizations, these were fireworks sent up by individuals EVERYWHERE.  There were huge splashes of red, green, orange, gold and blue lighting up the sky.  It had been a very windy day so all the coal smoke pollution had been blown away and the stars were brightly shining amidst the pyrotechnic marvels. On top of one of the buildings downtown a spot light scanned the heavens and most all of the big buildings in town where outlined in lights.  Even the main building on our campus was lit up.  At 6:30 the big grand daddy of displays started.  It was sponsored by the city and was set off in a park down by the river.  It was huge and reminded me of the display I've seen on PBS on the 4th of July from Boston.  They'd send 10 and 12 aerial's up at a time.  It was just amazing.  They'd go on for about 5 minutes then I assume they'd "reload" because about 5 minutes later they'd start again.  This went on for over 2 hours.  Things quieted down ever so slightly (there were still tons of them going off though) and then about 11:30 things really began to heat up again.  It truly sounded like a war zone.  I'd been warned about the noise and had turned on a fan and a white noise machine hoping to drown out some of the explosions, but it still woke Charlie up.  She came into the living room and watched the displays with me.  Things began to quite down about 2:00 although at 7:30 this morning they could again be heard going off at various parts of the city.

I'm teaching a couple of private student who from Jinzhou and home for the break from college.  One is the LIT President's daughter and the other is the Jinzhou Mayor's daughter.  Yesterday they told me about some of the traditions associated with Spring Festival.  Everyone goes home during this period and spends the holiday with family.  Many delicious meals are served and fellowship abounds.  At midnight on the first night of Spring Festival everyone sets off their fireworks (duh) and then goes in and stuffs themselves with jaozi (Chinese dumplings and they are wonderful!) this is done to in order to assure there is ample food for the new year.  New clothes are put on and worn to symbolize the start of a new beginning in the upcoming new year and new sock are put on to symbolize a new path to be taken.  There are many specials on television (which we didn't watch....don't have cable yet and the language thing) and families watch them as well.

Most business close for a week.  The official holiday is from the 11th through the 18th.  All of the schools are closed as are the government offices.  Hanjie had warned Miki (the Japanese teacher, who is also here on campus right now) and me the stores and restaurants would close and most of the street fruit, vegetable and meat vendors would not be there selling their goods.  We took my bike with it's bikecart and went to town and stocked up on food and toilet paper.  I did however find out one market close to campus is not closing for the week and one of the restaurants we frequent will be staying open as well.  Yesterday we ate there for lunch and the owner was quite concerned we wouldn't be able to eat during the break, he even asked us if he needed to prepare some food for us for supper. Miss Ma, our boss also made arrangements with the restaurant at the school's hotel to prepare food for us if we need it.  I think they are all afraid we are going to starve to death.  I tried to reassure Miss Ma, I knew how to cook and had plenty of food. (for those of you who don't know me personally, I'm was a Registered Dietitian in my former life and was a Food Service Director of a hospital kitchen...I know how to cook....and more than just green jello!)

I can't wait to see what the rest of the holiday brings! (although I understand the festivities slow down a bit)