Birthdays, new houses, weddings, funerals ... every occasion was once an opportunity for a huge banquet, a time for China's rural residents to show off their wealth and save face.
In Malu New Village, with a population of 2,000 in central China's Hunan Province, at least least 3 million yuan (about 500,000 U.S. dollars) worth of firecrackers were set off every year before 2017. Most were used to celebrate weddings, funerals, births or graduations.
"Several truckloads of firecrackers were lit each time, the roads were blanketed with red wrappers," said Wang Liangyuan, the village head.
The same scenes could be seen in the nearby Dafu Township. Colorful balloon arches were often used as decorations for banquets. Local resident Zhou Yan once had to walk through 80 such arches at a feast. "The cost for each arch is 100 yuan a day, and they are just for decoration," she said.
"The banquets, though abundant in dishes, were more or less the same. We didn't have the appetite for the same food over and over again, and half of the food would end up in trash bins," Zhou told Xinhua.
The grand celebrations finally came to an end in 2017, when the local village committee proposed frugality for banquets during the Spring Festival. The advice gained wide support and just days later it was confirmed as a village regulation. Suddenly all the bustle and noise that used to linger all year round were gone.
"Almost all celebrations, except for weddings and funerals, were banned. Even birthday banquets are only allowed for residents over 60," said Xiao Yexun, an official in nearby Xiaoyao Village.
The regulation also ordered a cap of 100 yuan per person for cash gifts and the number of tables at each banquet should be kept under 20. Firecrackers and balloon arches have also become history. "No one has violated the regulation so far," said Xiao.
Nearby regions quickly followed suit, which gave Li Shizhong, a resident of Xinqiao Village, great relief. In 2015, he attended 100 banquets, giving gifts of more than 20,000 yuan, almost double his annual income. Last year, he spent less than 2,000.
"Everyone hated the old tradition of extravagance, but was reluctant to reject an invitation," Xiao said. To earn their money back, residents had to take advantage of every excuse to hold banquets. Some even moved their birthday celebrations from summer to hold them during Spring Festival, when people working outside the village would return home.
The new trend of simple, frugal celebrations has been extensively advocated. Villages in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Guizhou provinces also published similar regulations to eliminate obsolete, lavish traditions, and villagers have found new hobbies to fill their spare time.
Malu New Village resident Wang Shuangfeng has joined a square dance team and a local opera group and practices every week. "We split the bill when we dine out. We are even closer than before," she said.
Liu Peiyuan, a Xinqiao resident, has joined the village volunteer association which looks after security and sanitation in the village and offers help to impoverished families. "We now put the energy once used for holding banquets into things that are more meaningful," Liu said.