Beijing 2022 Olympics closes with fitting, symbolic 'willow twig' goodbye

The closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics drew the two-week competition to an end on Sunday in Beijing. The ceremony incorporated willow twigs, a traditional Chinese farewell gift exchanged between friends when parting, expressing China's wishes to the athletes and the world.

Performers during the "willow twig" farewell performance at the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the National Stadium, Beijing, China, February 20, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

In Chinese, the pinyin for the word willow, "liu," is pronounced the same as the word for "stay." In ancient China, when friends and relatives were separating, they would pick a willow twig and give it to the person who was leaving to express their wish for them to stay.

This custom was first seen in "The Book of Songs," China's first collection of poems. The closing ceremony gave life to tradition in a presentation "Moment of Remembrance."

A view of the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the National Stadium, February 20, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

Eighty dancers held "willow twig" lights and walked slowly to the center of the stadium to "Farewell Song." Simultaneously, an ancient painting of weeping willows appeared on the LED screen, and 365 people appeared. They carried glowing "willow twigs" in their hands and walked slowly from side to side until they reached the very center of the screen.

"The setting of 365 people is intended to symbolize 365 days and emphasize the Chinese concept of eternal life," Huang Hui, the program director, explained.

The stage was also lit in a vibrant shade of green, symbolizing the blossoming of a new day.

The green not only tied in with the theme of "green Olympics" but also with the lyrics of "Farewell Song," which says, "Outside the long pavilion, along the ancient route, fragrant green grass joins the sky."

"Songbie" or "Farewell Song" was written by Chinese artist Hong Yi. Well suited to the touching send-off performance, the song was the final choice, so to speak, after more than 20 attempts to find the lyrics that resonated the most with the closure of the Games.

"There were more than 20 changes to the manuscript," Huang said. "Musicians had created different styles of music, such as sad, ethereal and empty, but in Director Zhang Yimou's view, it was more appropriate to choose music that everyone is familiar with."

With words like, "I ask of you, as you go this time, when are you to return? When it's time to come, please don't hesitate" and "In life, it is happy reunions that are rare; most often we bid farewell." It is clear they hit the right note, as the performance will be remembered for a long time to come.