With the history of more than 2000 years, Lantern Festival, also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival or Shang Yuan Festival in China, falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It marks the end of the Spring Festival celebration and is also the first major festival after Chinese New Year.
The first lunar month is called the Yuan month, and in ancient times, people called the night “Xiao”; the 15th day is the first night to see a full moon in that lunar year. That is how the day earned its name as the Yuan Xiao Festival.
- In 2018, the date of Lantern Festival is March 2rd.
Origin and History
- Lantern Festival existed as early as 2000 years ago during Western Han Dynasty -- Emperor Wu of Han took this day to offer sacrifices to "Taiyi"(the God who dominates the universe).
- The practice of appreciating lanterns during this festival actually originated in Eastern Han Dynasty under Emperor Ming’s reign.
Emperor Ming of Han was a big advocator of Buddhism. Hearing the custom that monks would light lanterns to worship the Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month, he officially decreed all the palace and temples to light lanterns, and for people across the country to hang lanterns as well, making the lantern displays come into being.
- Year after year, this Buddhist festival grow into a grand folk festival.
The Folklore Legend
In ancient times, there were once a large number of fierce and cruel animals trying to hurt the people and livestock. The Chinese villagers then organized to kill these animals.
- However, the Jade Emperor’s beloved crane was lost on the earth and got wrongly killed by a hunter unknowingly, which angered him very much. Thus, he ordered the destruction of the village by use of a storm of fire on the 15th day in the first lunar month.
Luckily, his kind-hearted daughter alerted the villagers ahead of time of the Jade Emperor’s plan since she wanted to save those innocent villagers’ lives.
- Hearing the news, a wise old man suggested the villagers to hang lit lanterns in every house and to explode firecrackers and fireworks on the 14th day to the 16th day in the first lunar month, which would make a false appearance to the Jade Emperor of being burnt. That way, he would be deceived and might stop carrying out his plan. The people all agreed it and did what the old man proposed.
On that 15th day in the first lunar month, the Jade Emperor’s troops found the whole town was already ablaze. They thought the village had been burnt and returned to heaven to report the situation to the Jade Emperor. The Jade Emperor was very satisfied and decided not to continue with his retaliatory plan.
Customs and Traditions
The celebration of Chinese New Year reaches a high point on Lantern Festival.
- Early in the morning – dragon dancing and lion dancing parades in the streets, which last nearly a whole morning and afternoon.
- In the evening – family members go out together, light colorful lanterns, guess lantern riddles, and fly kongming lanterns (孔明灯).
- Yuan Xiao (rice glue ball), a typical Chinese food, is essential on Lantern Festival. In Chinese culture it is a symbolic of reunion.
Celebration days and customs of the Lantern Festival were different with the development of history: Han Dynasty – 1 day, Tang Dynasty – 3 days, Song Dynasty – 5 days, Ming Dynasty – 10 days, Qing Dynasty – 4 to 5 days.
Fun Facts about Lantern Festival
Chinese St. Valentine’s Day
Lantern Festival is also known as the 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 street in hopes of finding their true love. With the beautiful full moon and fancy lanterns, the Lantern Festival is romantic enough for young ladies to meet their lovers.
However, as time passed, the festival no longer has an emphasis on such meaning.
Guessing Lantern Riddles
The Chinese people are very proud of their intelligence and ability to think abstractly, so “guessing lantern riddles” is another incredibly popular activity during the festival.
To date, cities across China hold such kinds of delightful activities to celebrate the Lantern Festival. Because they are fascinating and give people such inspiration, solving riddles activities are very popular with all ages and walks of life.