This past Sunday, March 22nd, I had the opportunity to attend the second day of the Bok Kai Festival in Marysville, California (40 miles north of Sacramento) with a friend. We missed the Dragon and Lion Dancers who paraded through the town on Saturday the 21st, but we were able to witness “Bomb Day” on Sunday, which was quite impressive. From the Bok Kai Temple website:
Bomb Day, or in Chinese, Yee Yeut Yee, takes its name from the colorful firing of the bombs highlighting the celebration, which is in tribute to the Chinese Water God, The Bok Kai [AKA Xuan Tian Shang Di, Xuan Wu, Bei Di, Zhen Wu].
Each year on the second day of the second month of the Chinese lunar year, the Chinese Community of Marysville and the city of Marysville join in putting on the Bomb Day celebration, which marks The Bok Kai’s birthday. When the day falls on a weekday, the festivities will be held on the following weekend for two days. The annual two-day event draws thousands from Marysville and its surrounding communities.
This year, the parade fell on the second day of the lunar month, and Bomb Day fell on the third.
After a long fuse of firecrackers and fireworks that stretched out over an entire city block were ignited, the Firing of the Bombs occurred:
The bombs are fired in a roped arena where young Chinese, and occasionally adults, scramble for “good fortune” rings, which are shot into the air from the bursting bombs, and traditionally bring luck throughout the year. The rings may be kept by those who retrieve them in the scramble, but are often sold to people who want to keep the lucky rings for the year. Those who purchase them in turn pay a fee at the temple to hold onto them.
In addition to the fun and excitement of the celebration, Bomb Day has another aspect: it enables the faithful to worship at the temple, which honors The Bok Kai, the deity responsible for banishing evil spirits and controlling the rains and floods of the spring in time for planting season. During the ritual of worship at the temple, each individual finds out what fortune the new year will bring.
This was the 135th annual Bok Kai Festival, but its history probably goes back even further:
The Bok Kai parade’s rich history is believed to have started as far back as the 1850s. Always held on the weekend closest to the second day of the second month of the Lunar calendar it is the longest continually held parade in California. The parade honors Bok Eye, the Chinese Water God, who protects Marysville from flooding.
The Bok Kai temple stands at the Southwest corner of First and D Streets in Marysville, California. Originally built in the 1850s by Chinese immigrants the temple was destroyed by flooding and then rebuilt in the 1880s. Serving as a meeting hall, court, and a place of worship, the temple was built with its main altar facing toward the river. This was done so that Bok Eye could ward off any evil and protect the community of Marysville from flooding.
Bok Eye is considered the god of the North and is said the be the Chinese water god whose powers have successfully prevented Marysville from flooding since 1997. Bok Eye’s powers include overseeing waterways, water systems, irrigation and rain. This could be why it has never rained during the Bok Kai parade.