Curious about the Lantern Festival in China? You want to see and send up flying lanterns to the sky? Included in the set of Spring Festival, it is one of the country’s most important holidays. Chinese people believe the first full moon of the new lunar year is a remarkable event that they can not miss. This is also an ample opportunity for foreigners when they spend a China vacation at this time of year. For a celebration, Chinese people will hang colorful lanterns, playing exciting games and gathering with friends to enjoy sweetened rice dumplings. Let’s take a look at this introduction to get useful information about the Lantern Festival.
Chinese Lantern Festival Facts
The Lantern Festival or Yuan Xiao Festival falls on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month or February 8 this year. It marks the end of the Chinese New Year period; the festival dates back about 2,000 years ago.
After the Lantern Festival, all the Chinese New Year taboos are no longer valid, and New Year decorations are taken down.
The first full moon night in the Chinese calendar symbolizes the reunion of family members. Nevertheless, most families cannot celebrate the family reunion because of no public holiday at this time and long-distance traveling.
Because the appreciation of the lanterns gives a good chance for young teenagers to communicate with each other, the Lantern Festival is also considered as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
The Origin of Chinese Lantern Festival
As mentioned above, the Lantern Festival originates as far back as 2,000 years ago.
At the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE), Emperor Hanmingdi became interested in Buddhism. When he knew that some Buddhist monks would light lanterns in the temples to show respect to Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, he adopted the rule that all the temples, households, and royal palaces would light lanterns on that evening. Gradually, this Buddhist custom became popular and a grand festival among the general population and spread throughout China.
How Do Chinese Celebrate the Lantern Festival?
As Chinese traditional customs, people will gather on the night of the Lantern Festival to celebrate and enjoy different activities. With a rich cultural basis like China, Lantern Festival customs and activities are diverse throughout the country. Some highlight activities are lighting and enjoying lanterns (floating, fixed, held, and flying), appreciating the bright full moon, performing fireworks, flying drones performance, guessing riddles written on lanterns, eating tangyuan, lion/ dragon dances, and walking on stilts.
The most exciting customs are sending up flying lanterns, lion dances, guessing lantern riddles and eating tangyuan.
1. Lighting and Watching Lanterns
Lighting and appreciating lanterns is the special item of the festival.
When the festival comes, the colorful and glowing red lanterns of various shapes and sizes are seen everywhere: in front of households, shopping malls, streets, and parks, attracting numerous visitors. You may get caught of children to hold small lanterns while walking the streets.
The lanterns’ artwork vividly reflects the traditional Chinese images and symbols such as fruits, flowers, birds, animals, people, and buildings.
In the Taiwanese culture, the Chinese word for the lantern is pronounced similarly to the word ‘a new-born baby boy’. Therefore, lighting lanterns inspires many people to illuminate the future and giving birth.
When releasing lighting lanterns people will pray that they will have smooth futures and wish their best luck for their families. For those women who want to be pregnant, they will walk under a hanging lantern and make a wish for a child.
2. Guessing Lantern Riddles
Lantern owners often write riddles on paper notes then paste them upon the colorful lanterns. People will gather around and guess the riddles. The act of solving lantern riddles, which can be traced back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279), is also one of the most important activities of the Lantern Festival.
If you find out the right answer, you can pull the riddle off and check the answer at the lantern owner. a small gift as a prize will belong to you if the answer is right.
Lantern riddle guessing is an interesting and intellectual activity, thus, it has become popular among all social strata.
3. Folk Dances: Lion Dance and Walking on Stilts
The lion dance is an excellent traditional art that adds endless fun to the celebration of the lantern festival. This outstanding traditional folk dances in China is always amusing, which makes spectators enjoy it very much. In the mindset of the ancient people, they related the lion to the symbol of bravery and strength and thought that it could get rid of evil and save people and their livestock. Thus, lion dances are shown at important events, like the Lantern Festival, to pray for good fortune and safety.
The lion dance requires two well-trained actors dressed in the lion suit. One performer acts the head and forelegs, and the other is in charge of the back and rear legs. Under the guidance of a choreographer, the “lion” will dance in tone with the beat of a drum, gong, and cymbals. Viewers have chances to enjoy the performance of jumping, rolling, and doing difficult acts such as walking on stilts. As a part of this activity, the “lion” moves around to look for some green vegetables with red envelopes of money hidden inside.
Nowadays, the lion dance becomes popular in many other countries with overseas Chinese, especially in countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
4. Eating Tangyuan (Yuanxiao)
Eating tangyuan also called yuan xiao is an important custom of the Lantern Festival.
These ball-shaped dumplings are made of sticky rice flour, stuffed with different fillings. The filter is white sugar, brown sugar, sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, rose petals, bean paste, and jujube paste or a combination of ingredients. The common feature is that they are sweet.
Yuanxiao can be boiled, steamed, or fried, and is customarily served with fermented rice soup. This dish is round in shape refers to the wholeness and family gathering together happily. Therefore, tasting tangyuan on the Lantern Festival is a way to express their best wishes for their family and future lives.
Useful Notes in The Lanterns Festival in China
During the Lantern Festival, a huge number of lantern fairs are held in China. These fairs offer tourists opportunities to experience Lantern Festival celebrations in public places. The following recommendations are the top five places for you to appreciate spectacular and colorful lanterns together with performances: Qinhuai International Lantern Festival, Shanghai Yuyuan Lantern Festival, Guangzhou Yuexiu Park Lantern Fair.
One of the inconvenience during the spring festival is difficulty in transportation, this is because numerous flows of people travel with family and friends; most of them go out at the same time in the evening to sightsee lantern displays and with performance. Many people head back to work or school after the end of the official Spring Festival vacation days, thus travel tickets soar up and they are difficult to get.
Accommodation is even more expensive. You should have well prepared to avoid the hassles and have the unique experience of the Lantern Festival.