Chinese Celebrations: Lantern Festival

The Lantern Festival, also called “Yuan Xiao Jie”, is celebrated on the fifteen day of the first lunar month.The first month of the lunisolar calendar is yuan and in traditional mandarin night was called xiao.Therefore this day is called Yuan Xiao(元宵). It marks the end of the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, also the first time to see a full moon of that year in the lunar calendar. It marks the last day of the lunar New Year celebration. It happens normally in February or March in the Gregorian calendar.

Since the Western Han Dynasty reign, this festival  has became very popular. During this festival, family can go out at night to temples carrying their paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns.In recent times, lanterns have been modified, embellished with many complex designs. Contemporary, lanterns are often made in the shape of animals. The lanterns are almost always red to symbolize prosperity. In Hong-Kong, the Valentine ’s Day is the equivalent of the lantern festival.

Furthermore, in the Taoist tradition, the fifteenth day of the first lunar month corresponds to the “Official of Heaven” who enjoys brilliant and joyous objects, so there will be a lot of colorful lanterns hooked up for people to appreciate.The matter of this festival is the declining of the darkness of the winter and the fact of moving about at night with hand-made lights.

Lantern festival in Shanghai
Lantern festival in Shanghai


On this day, people will eat ‘Tang Yuan‘ (sweet dumplings) to celebrate.  “Tang Yuan” is a Chinese dessert (round shaped sticky rice dumplings), which means reunion, harmony and happiness for the family. “Tang Yuan” is made from sticky rice flour filled with stuffing (usually red bean paste or peanuts paste).

In each household, Chinese people eat Yuanxiao which is a rice ball full of different ingredients. Each region of China has its own method for making and filling Yuanxiao, like some use sugar, rose petals, sesame, sweet red bean paste, sesame paste peanut butter or jujube paste. Some don’t have fillings. Furthermore they can be boiled, fried or steamed. Besides, Chinese people believe that the round shape of the balls symbolize the family togetherness, harmony, happiness and good luck for this New Year. During the night of the festival, family savour the yuanxiao and admire the full moon.

dumplings served for the Chinese New YEAr
Dumplings Tang Yuan served for the Chinese Lantern festival


There are other celebrations to do during the daytime, performances like dragon lantern dance, lion dance are always on stage. Fireworks form another scene at night time.

Nowadays, the popular activity is guessing the lantern riddles; often the lanterns contain messages of good fortune, family reunion, plentiful harvest, prosperity and love.Moreover, the displaying of lanterns is still a major event throughout China. In Hangzhou and Shanghai, they have decided to adopt electric lanterns and neon lanterns. Chengdu in the southwest of China organizes a lantern fair in Culture Park. During this festival, the park is a virtual flood of lanterns. So much visitors come to see the new lantern designed. The most impressive lantern is the Dragon Pole of 38 meter high, and spit fireworks from its mouth.

yuyuan garden lantern festival
Yu Yuan garden (Shanghai) decorated for the Lantern Festival

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