The Lantern Festival

The Lantern Festival 2021 falls on 26 February, 2021.

The first month of the Chinese lunar calendar is called yuan month, and in ancient times people called night xiao. It is the first night to see a full moon after the New Year. Thus, the day is called "Yuan Xiao Festival" or "Shang Yuan Festival".

According to Chinese tradition, at the very beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon hanging in the sky, there should be thousands of colorful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. So, Chinese people celebrate it as Lantern Festival.

Legend of the Lantern Festival

According to Chinese ancient legend, Heavenly Jade Emperor angered and wanted to destroy a town on earth as his favorite bird was killed by a hunter by accident. A kind fairy heard of this vengeance and warned the people to light lanterns all over the town on that appointed day. All the people at the town did that. The emperor looked down the town from the sky and it seemed that it had blazed. He was satisfied and left. From that day on, people celebrated the anniversary of their deliverance by carried lanterns through the streets at the first full moon night of the year.

Origin of Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival was originated at Han Dynasty, with the Buddhism flourishing in China by then. The Emperor then ordered to light lanterns in palace and temples to show his respect to Buddha at 15th of the first lunar month. This practice was expanded to other parts of China along the years.

In Kaifeng, during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126), lanterns were carried by dancers concealed inside dragons, as in Lunar New Year's parades today. Everyone out on the streets drinking, eating, and enjoying music, theater and acrobatics; some carried lanterns in the long pole.

The Lantern Festival cerebration reached its peak at Ming Dynasty, lasting for ten days. Downtown Area was set aside for displaying the lanterns. Dengshikou in Beijing was the place for selling and buying lanterns on that day.

Chinese Yuanxiao Festival Culture

Celebration of Lantern Festival

Watching lanterns and eating sticky rice dumplings called Tang Yuan are the most important celebrations on this day.

For Lantern Festival, the displaying of lanterns is a major event at night. In the moonlight, lanterns with various colors, shapes, and sizes are hung in the streets. People walk at a leisurely pace, and appreciate the creativity of diverse lanterns. Some children would carried their lanterns in the long pole, and have fun with the whole family. It is said that the brilliance of the artificial lights almost outshone the light of full moon.

"Guessing lantern riddles" is an essential part for lantern watching. The puzzles or riddles were written on the lanterns of just pasted on them. If one can solve that puzzles, a little gift would be given. Nowadays, lantern show is still available in many big cities like Temple of Earth and Heaven in Beijing and Chenghuang Temple in Shanghai.

People appreciating various lanterns on Chinese Lantern Festival

Tang Yuan or Tangyuan (汤圆), a traditional food for Lantern Festival, is usually eaten together with family. Its name has a similar pronunciation as the word for "reunion" in Chinese. Most Chinese people eat Tang Yuan on this specific day with good wishes for reunion, harmony and happiness for the family.

Tangyuan is made from glutinous rice flour with stuffing in round shape, kinds of stuffing like sugar, walnuts, sesame, rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste include. The round shape of the balls and the bowls where they are served, come to symbolise the family togetherness.

Chinese Lantern Festival culture

In Northern China, it is also called "Yue Xiao", which derives from the festival. The difference between Tangyuan and Yuanxiao is the way they are made. People in north China make yuanxiao by rolling a hard stuffing in glutinous rice flour.

In south China, tangyuan is prepared by placing the filling inside rice flour wrapping, similar to the making of jiaozi. 1. Shape the dough of the rice flours into balls first. 2. Make a hold by finger and inserting the fillings. 3. Close the hole and smooth by rolling between hands.

Besides, some performances would be staged in the daytime of the Lantern Festival, like dragon dance, lion dance, land boat dance, yangge dance, and walking on stilts, etc. Fireworks form another scene at night time.

Related Reading

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  • The Winter Solstice Festival
  • The Mid-Autumn Festival