Thian Hock Keng Temple 天福宫celebrates the Yuanxiao Festival 元宵节 with a series of educational and cultural events. The Yuanxiao 元宵节 also known as the Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year and marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Traditionally, ladies toss oranges into the river on the Yuanxiao night to wish for a good husband. When the ladies went out in the evening, it became an opportunity for the opposite sexes to meet each other. Due to this romantic association, the Yuan Xiao festival is also known as the Chinese Valentine Day.
Another traditional activity during Yuan Xiao is lantern riddles. Riddles are attached on lanterns and anyone who can decipher the riddles wins a prize. All of these elements were incorporated into Thian Hock Keng Temple’s Yuan Xiao celebration.
Rows of lanterns decorated the two side halls. At the bottom of each lantern was attached a riddle. Anyone who solves the riddle can claim a prize from a booth manned by volunteers. Visitors attempting to solve the riddles were reading the slips and contemplating the riddle. The friendly volunteers were encouraging visitors to try to solve the riddles. Others visitors were busily taking pictures of rows of lantern decorating the temple.
On the sidewalls, an information board in English and Chinese was set up to explain traditional Chinese marriage customs. A set of marriage gifts and ceremonial items was also put on display.
In the evening, stalls featuring traditional food and handicraft were set up along the street in front of the temple. The highlight of the night was a mass wedding ceremony to coincide with Yuan Xiao’s association as Chinese Valentine Day.
33 couples reaffirmed their marriage commitments and 6 new couples were wedded. The MC introduced the couples as they arrived. One of the couples has been married for more than 50 years and was happily and lovingly walking towards the stage attracting waves of applause from the audience. Another couple was wedded at Thian Hock Keng Temple in the 1950s making their reaffirmation ceremony both special and nostalgic.
The couples arrived by trishaw and walked on the red carpet leading to the central stage. Their arrival created much excitement among rows of audiences. Some of them were family members but most were members of the public as well as tourists and expatriates who were just as excited.
The couples were greeted with applause and bathed in camera flash as everyone took pictures of happy and loving couples walking towards the stage. The Mass Wedding Ceremony ended with the organizers presenting each couple with a certificate and a basket of traditional Chinese candy.
After the mass wedding ceremony, the crowds explored the stalls as well as the exhibits and lanterns inside the temple. Many also took this opportunity to pay their respects to Mazu 妈祖，the sea goddess.
Thian Hock Keng Temple’s Yuan Xiao celebration is definitely a special event to the couples and their family members. To the public, it was an opportunity to share their joy and to experience traditional events associated with the Yuan Xiao Festival.