BEIJING, Feb. 13 -- Small round dumplings, flavored with rose petals, have appeared in all of China's bakeries as people struggle to please both family and lover on Valentine's Day.
The imported celebration of Valentine's Day this year coincides with the traditional Lantern Festival, which dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), and marks the end of lunar New Year festivities. The festival is usually celebrated with displays of red lanterns and by eating sweet rice dumplings,"yuanxiao", at home with the family.
Chinese parents looking forward to the festival hope daughters and sons will stay at home with them on that day, said Yang Jianhua at Zhejiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.
This year, many younger family members have a very different idea, and are scheming to spend Valentine's Day with their other loved ones, just the two of them, Yang said.
And hence across the country, young people juggle with the competing claims of tradition and romance.
"Choosing between the two festivals is like choosing who to save if your mother and lover fall into the water at the same time," netizen "Xiaoxiao" posted on Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. The platform boast more than 15 million users across China claiming to be tossed on the horns of the dual-festival dilemma, most of them young.
In the booming eastern "City of Heaven", Hangzhou, downtown registry offices stayed open late as young couples rushed to make marriage vows .
"I'll celebrate Valentine's Day with my girlfriend this year in the hope that we will spend future Lantern Festivals together, for the rest of our lives," Li Shuai, 27, declared. His colleagues, on the other hand, have all chosen to have the traditional, dumplings with their families, option.
"Filial piety always comes first for Chinese people. I'll stay at home on Friday for the Lantern Festival, then spend a romantic weekend with my boyfriend," said Chen Qin.
Being a couple requires mutual cooperation and many ended up with quarrelling.
"I broke up with my girlfriend because she felt dumped when I decided to take my mom out instead," said white-collar worker Cai Zhifeng.
Valentine's Day often falls during Chinese New Year holidays. Lantern Festival is on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the first full moon of the year, and the end of the most important season for family reunions.
The imported holiday spurs discounts at department stores and helps hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and florists to prosper, but it triggers heated discussion on western and eastern culture clashes just as often.
"I didn't understand why my ex-girlfriend cared about a foreign festival so much, just like she found it strange that I valued an ancient tradition," said Cai.
The Lantern Festival coincided with Valentine's Day last in 1995, when many Chinese were still too conservative to talk about love openly, and Valentine's Day was a minor curiosity of the calendar. But in the past two decades, it's more than just attitudes that have changed, and many Western festivals are popular among old and young alike.
Folk experts believe people should relax and enjoy "double romance" this year: Lantern Festival was made for lovers.
Wu Bingan, honorary chairman of the China Folklore Society, said that while most Chinese holidays feature family reunions and honoring one's ancestors, the Lantern Festival has been an occasion for going outside and participating in public events since ancient times.
"Young women would be chaperoned into the streets during the festival, dancing, singing and possibly meeting their future husbands," said Wu.
Smart people like Zhou Changwen manage to combine two dates. He will fly home to the northwestern city of Xi'an taking his girlfriend with him.
"We'll watch the lantern show with my parents. It'll be the first time she meets my family," said Zhou.