Chinese Lantern Festival 2024: Traditional Celebrations, Food, Yuan Xiao Jie

Written by Matteo Updated Apr. 8, 2021

The Chinese Lantern Festival, also known as Yuan Xiao Jie or Shang Yuan Festival, falls on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. In 2024, it would be celebrated on the 24th of February.

The Lantern Festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year Festival. All the celebrations stop from this day, and the new year taboos are no longer in effect. 

People will light up lanterns, guess lantern riddles, eat yuan xiao and enjoy time with families or lovers.  It is a day for enjoying family time. 

Chinese Lantern Festival Dates 2024, 2025, 2026

The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, in 2024, and it takes place on Feb. 24th. 

Here are the recent Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival dates in the Gregorian calendar.

Years Lantern Festival Dates
2024 February 24th (Saturday)
2025 February 12th (Wednesday)
2026 March 3rd (Tuesday)

Top the Lantern Festival Traditions

Though the Lantern Festival is traditionally the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration period, it is an important day and highlight of the new year.

Chinese New Year 2022 decorations

1. Lighting Colorful Lanterns

Lighting lanterns is probably the most widely-known tradition for celebrating the Lantern Festival.

 Every year, lantern carnivals and exhibitions are held in parks and other public places, and lanterns of various colors, patterns, and styles are on display. 

Chinese Lantern Festival

2. Eating Tang Yuan

Tangyuan (汤圆 tāng yuan), also called Yuan Xiao (元宵 yuán xiāo), is a must-eat food for the Lantern Festival. Shaped like a round ball, Tang Yuan symbolizes the full moon and people's desires for happiness and family reunions.

Tang Yuan is made of glutinous rice flour and is usually stuffed with sesame, peanut, and bean paste inside served in soup. 

Chinese lantern festival food - Tang Yuan

3. Enjoying Time with Families and Lovers

As the Lantern Festival is a part of the Spring Festival, it is still a time reserved for families. Gathering with families and eating Tang Yuan, the Lantern Festival has an important significant meaning of reunion.

Beyond that, the Lantern Festival is also known as Chinese Valentine's Day, a day to celebrate love and affection between lovers.

In ancient China, young ladies were not allowed to go out freely except at the time of the Lantern Festival. It was once customary for single people to carry lit lanterns on the streets in hopes of finding their true love.

With the beautiful full moon and fancy lanterns, the Lantern Festival was romantic enough to be an occasion for young ladies to meet their lovers. Just like the Mid-Autumn Festival!

As time passed, however, the festival no longer had such an emphasis on romance.

4. Guessing Lantern Riddles

Guessing lantern riddles is an incredibly popular activity during the Lantern Festival.

The riddles often contain messages of good fortune, family reunion, abundant harvests, and love. In ancient times, single people can attract the attention of their crush through this guessing game.

Right up until today, Chinese people convene delightful riddle competitions to celebrate the Lantern Festival. Lantern riddles are popular with people of all ages and walks of life as many of them are inspiring and fascinating.

5. Setting off Fireworks

Setting off fireworks used to be an indispensable custom on the Chinese New Year as well as on the Lantern Festival, creating a lovely festive atmosphere.

With the loud noise and brilliant spark, the celebration of the festival is ending.

Chinese lantern festival fireworks

Chinese Lantern Festival Food

The traditional food for the Lantern Festival is Tang Yuan ( sweet rice balls with black sesame fillings). Tang Yuan is round in shape, and the pronunciation of its name is similar to the Chinese expression of family togetherness (tuan yuan). So Tang Yuan symbolizes being together with your beloved ones. The sweet taste of the food also has a good symbol of a happy and sweet life in the future. 

Tang Yuan can be boiled, fried, or steamed.  It is traditionally served in fermented rice soup( Chinese sweet liquor).  

How to Say Happy Lantern Festival

The most popular greeting for the Lantern Festival is Happy Lantern Festival or Happy Yuan Xiao Jie. In Chinese, it says 元宵节快乐 ( yuán xiāo jié kuài lè).

Lantern Festival Greeting Card
Lantern Festival Greeting Card

Origin of the Lantern Festival

The festival was said to become popular 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD).

Emperor Ming of Han was a big advocate of Buddhism. Hearing of the custom that monks would light lanterns to worship the Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month, he officially decreed that all palaces and temples should feature lanterns, and people right across the country should hang lanterns, creating the tradition of lantern displays.

During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), this Buddhist festival has grown into a grand folk festival.

In ancient times, the first lunar month is called the "元 (yuán)" month, and the night is called "宵 (xiāo)". As people always light many lanterns on the night of the 15th day of the first lunar month, this festival was called the Lantern Festival or Yuan Xiao Festival (元宵节 yuán xiāo jié).

Legend of the Lantern Festival

In ancient times, there were once many ferocious beasts trying to harm both people and livestock. Chinese villagers organized to kill these animals and protect the village. The Jade Emperor's beloved crane, however, was lost on earth and was unwittingly killed by a hunter, which infuriated him.

The Jade Emperor decided to revenge on the hunter by burning his village on the final day Chinese New Year celebration. Luckily, the Jade Emperor's kind-hearted daughter wanted to save the innocent villagers' lives, she alerted the villagers to this awful scheme.

Hearing the news, a wise old man suggested the villagers hang lit lanterns in every house and set off fireworks on the 15th day of the first lunar month, to make it seem to the Jade Emperor that the village had caught fire. That way, he would be deceived and might abandon his plan. All villagers did as the old man proposed.

On the 15th day of the first lunar month, the Jade Emperor's troops found the whole town was already ablaze. They returned to heaven to report to the Emperor that the village had been burnt. The Jade Emperor was satisfied, and the retaliatory plan came to the end.

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