K and I went out with her sister and our nephew and niece last night to ... well, walk around with lanterns, which is what you do on the mid-autumn festival. Don't ask me why: it's a tradition. Or an old charter. Or something.
While we adults obviously had fond memories of lanterns to relive, the kids were far more prosaic about the whole affair. At one point, Sam (the niece) turned to me and said "After the candles go out, we can stop, right?". Obviously lanterns don't hold the same appeal for her as they did for us as children.
Tradition is malleable, of course. Tonight, as K and I were walking around our housing estate, K asked me what the tradition was behind the various things that the children were doing - like lining up a whole bunch of candles in a row on the ground and lighting them. Or making little piles of paper from spare lanterns and burning them. The short answer was that I didn't know: I don't recall doing those things as kid during the mid-autumn festival. I only remember walking around with lanterns. As for the various displays of incipient pyromania - well, if you give a kid candles, he will light them. Nothing to do with tradition.
Or perhaps there is a link, to something deeper. One of the most compelling sights I saw was a bunch of kids sitting round a pile of burning things, just staring into the fire (see photo above, courtesy of my wife). No talking, no movement, just staring into the flames. There's something very primal about fire that draws us to it, and even with all our conveniences, even with electric light available at the flick of a switch, we're still fascinated by a naked flame.