The Lantern Festival: China
Marking the end of the most important holiday period in China, Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival is a spectacular, beautiful and special tradition that is a spectacular site to behold. Celebrated in the fifteenth day of the first month after the lunar new year, The Lantern Festival is typically in February or March. The main activity of this holiday is the lighting and enjoyment of lanterns. People float, fly, carry and set out lanterns of all kinds of shapes and sizes. The celebration also happens at the full moon, and in different regions of China, different customs and rituals take place. Fireworks, dragon and lion dances, walking on stilts, processions, eating gluttonous rice balls called tangyuan and deciphering riddles on lanterns are all commonplace. The artistry and handicraft work that goes into lanterns is impressive. Lanterns take traditional shapes, such as the traditional globe shape, a dragon, goat, fish, flowers or just about anything else you could imagine. Solving riddles glued to a lantern by the owner create a crowd of people trying to solve them. If someone thinks they have the right answer, they rip it off and ask the owner. If the person gets the riddle right, usually the owner gives the winner a small gift. The lighting of the lanterns lets people pray for a smooth, successful future. Well-wishes for families are also part of the prayers. In ancient times, the brightest lanterns symbolized hope and good luck. Now, in places like Hong Kong for example, The Lantern Festival most resembles Valentine’s Day in the West.
The tradition traces back to Buddhist monks who would light lanterns on the fifteenth day of the first month of the solar lunar new year. There are several legends that trace the lantern tradition back to various mythologies.
Emperor Hanmingdi, at the outset of the Easter Han Dynasty (25-220), is said to have started the festival based on being a Buddhist and learning about the monks’ tradition.
Others believe the festival finds its roots in Taoism, when the god of good fortune, Tianguan, celebrated his birthday. Tianguan loved being entertained in various ways, and thus, in an attempt to receive good fortune from the god, people started creating and lighting lanterns, which turned into the holiday.
Another popular legend involves a fair maiden in the Emperor’s palace named Yuan Xiao, who was about to jump off a bridge to kill herself due to the separation from her family. As she cried, a man came across her and promised her that if she did as he said, she would see her parents again. Clearly a man of creativity, he set up a fortune telling booth in the town, where each person who sought their fortune was given the same one: the town would be burned down on January 15th by a fairy dispatched by the god of fire, dressed in red, and riding a black horse. Two days before the ominous day, Yuan Xiao arrived in the town on a black horse and told the emperor that his city would be burned down. The Emperor understandably stressed, consulted the obviously connected same man that was helping the maiden, who gave him a prescription to attempt to avoid the wrath of the fire god. First, the fire god loved tangyuan, so the whole town should make a lot of them. Then, hang colorful red lanterns everywhere in the palace and light fireworks for everyone to enjoy. When the palace was decorated, the everyone came to enjoy the decorations, including Yuan Xiao’s parents, and the family was reunited. The plan worked, the town didn’t burn down and ritual of the Lantern Festival stuck.
- Lots of lanterns of all kinds of colors, shapes and sizes
- Tangyuan, rice balls filled with various sweet fillings
- Riddles taped to lanterns
- Dragon dancers
- Any other party decorations or items to make the night shine
- It starts with the creation of amazing lanterns of all kinds
- Hang, float or fly lanterns everywhere
- Prepare a feast of amazing food, including Tangyuan
- Have a blast!