Chinese Lantern Festival
Chinese Lantern Festival, also known as Yuan Xiao Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, which usually equates to February or early March. It is a continuation of celebrating the Spring Festival. It marks the end of the Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year) celebration and is the first full moon of the new lunar year. During the Lantern Festival lanterns are released to honor deceased ancestors and other celebrations take place throughout the day.
The festival began more than 2,000 years ago and is still a way for locals to make wishes for the New Year and to celebrate family togetherness. Family and friends gather to eat yuan xiao (glutinous rice balls), which are commonly filled with sesame or peanut paste. These white, plump sticky rice balls, resembling the full moon, symbolize reunion, harmony, and prosperity. So this food is a symbol of union, harmony and happiness for the family. People also eat it to cherish the memory of loved ones not beside them and express their good wishes for the future.
In 2022 Lantern Festival is on Tuesday, February 15.
The tradition of Lantern Festival began in China’s Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). It probably became a widely recognized holiday during Emperor Wen of Han’s reign, when he lavishly celebrated on this day the restored peace after some political upheaval.
In an earlier origin story, Emperor Ming of Han, who promoted Buddhism, ordered all lanterns kept aflame on this day in order to pay respect to Buddha, following Buddhist monks’ practice of viewing Buddhist relics on the fifteenth day of the first month. Daoist monks also lit lanterns at the first full moon.
It was also a romantic festival in ancient China, providing an opportunity for unmarried men and women to meet. In ancient times, young women, especially daughters of eminent families, hardly stepped out their houses. But during the Lantern Festival, it was a tradition that all people, including those young women, come out for lantern shows.
Facts about the festival
Red is the Color for the Festivals
If you take a wide look around the only vibrant color highlighting the streets will be a vibrant red. For some reason, the Chinese love the idea of bright, colorful lanterns. Usually, the lanterns are oval-shaped and gold tassels hang from the bottom. Some particular patch design is made or a greeting is painted on those lanterns.
It is believed the color red symbolizes warmth, happiness, and good fortune. These lanterns are made out of thin paper or silk and wired around the bamboo frame or a rattan. Besides the traditional lanterns, you will also find square-shaped lanterns in white color.
Three Variety of Lanterns
Hanging lanterns are usually used for decorations during the festival, at homes and public spaces. Every inch of the street is covered with these lanterns and it is believed that it brings protection to the people. Then there are the flying lanterns, usually filled with hot air (like hot air balloon) and they are released in the night sky (a ritual for the festival). The third type of lanterns is floating lanterns. Usually, these are reserved for their use in Dragon Boat Festival but you can see them here and there in the lakes or ponds as well.
The shape also holds integral meaning, such as the round shape represents the wholeness and togetherness in China – an unbreakable bond. Besides, the calligraphy holds significance as a traditional way of wishing the greetings or some popular phrases that chase the evil away. It’s rather fascinating to see the pictures of dragons drawn alongside. Mostly the zodiac animal of the year is drawn to symbolize its importance in the Chinese culture.