Choka Tal Festival (or, “I love you, so stand still so I can hit you!”)

Tonight I went with a Uyghur friend to a restaurant on the other side of Xi’an that was supposed to have good Uyghur food. The food turned out to be okay, but the company was great.

As we discussed many different topics, he told me about a traditional Uyghur holiday called Choka Tal Festival. This festival takes place around the time when the willow trees put out its new growth in long slender switches, called “tal” in Uyghur. Apparently, the way the Uyghur boys celebrate this festival is that each boy breaks off one of these long switches, goes to find the girl he likes, and proceeds to whip her with the switch!

Obviously, since the switch is new and tender, it doesn’t hurt at all. After all, it’s supposedly intended to be a way for the boy to show the girl that he likes her. My friend told me that he distinctly remembers the first time that he did this, when he was in junior high. After he expressed his admiration to the girl he liked, she went out, found a bigger switch, and proceeded to beat him with it! He said, “The first time I tried, and I failed miserably!” :-)

Hmm…maybe he should have woven the switch into a circle and given it to her as a wreath to put on her head instead of beating her with it. But then, you never know. Maybe she was just returning the admiration!

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