Fireworks at hand, I'm ready for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is Saturday night, when tens of thousands of people will light off fireworks and all manner of pyrotechnics across Beijing to welcome in the Year of the Tiger.

Peter Ford
Monitor staffer Peter Ford's stash of fireworks, which he'll use to light up Beijing on Saturday night and welcome in the Year of the Tiger.

Yippeee! It’s Chinese New Year. I can ignore the fact that I'm middle-aged, pretend to be a boy, and go out and buy lots and lots of REALLY noisy fireworks.

My wife insists that I buy some pretty ones too. But “pretty” is hard to predict from the outside of a box. Whereas when you buy a bandolier of 2,000 firecrackers (and I have bought two) you know you are going to get 2,000 bangs. In rapid and deafening succession.

And of course I shall be just one among tens of thousands of people letting off firecrackers and all manner of pyrotechnics all over Beijing on Saturday night, welcoming in the Year of the Tiger and scaring away devils.

Already I have heard isolated pops and cracks from firework freaks who cannot wait until tomorrow midnight. But the barrage of explosions that marks the turn of each lunar year in China is unlike anything I have ever experienced elsewhere, major war-zones not excluded.

Last year at New Year I was trapped in a narrow lane in old Beijing for nearly three quarters of an hour, unable to go either forward or backward, so intense was the explosive enthusiasm of the neighbors.

I do not need much encouragement to join in this sort of festivity, the essence of the Chinese ideal of a good time which they call “re nao,” or “warm noise."

Nor do I need any encouragement to run like the dickens when I have lit the blue touch-paper, but in this I am unusually cautious by Beijing standards. Local pyromaniacs think nothing of letting rockets off from their fists, or of throwing clusters of firecrackers between the feet of unsuspecting passers-by.

This means that a certain number of Beijingers may wake up on the first day of every new year missing a fist or a foot. Last year the city woke up missing a 34-story hotel, burned to a charred shell after fireworks from an illegal show put on by government officials landed on the roof.

That just means that government officials will (hopefully) be a bit more careful this year about where they stage their pyrotechnical performances. It certainly won’t stop me, nor any of my neighbors, from making as much spectacularly colored noise as we can.

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Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in the Lunar Calendar, and Saturday night marks the beginning of the Year of the Tiger. According to Chinese astrology, the Tiger averts thieves, ghosts, and fire – though Saturday is expected to be a kaleidoscope of fireworks in Beijing.