2021 Lantern Festival
Lantern Festival, also called Yuan Xiao Festival (元宵节), is a holiday celebrated in China and many other Asian countries that honor deceased ancestors on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar. This year, the Lantern Festival is celebrated on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.
The Lantern Festival is a time of rec- onciliation, peace, and forgiveness. The holiday marks the first full moon of the new lunar year and the end of the Chi- nese New Year.
After the festival, Chinese New Year taboos are no longer in effect, and all New Year decorations are taken down. The Lantern Festival is also the first full moon night in the Chinese calendar, marking the return of spring and symbolizing the reunion of family. However, most people cannot celebrate it with their family at in a big reunion because the festival is not considered a public holiday, so traveling long distances is not feasible, plus this year—COVID.
Origins of the Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival may have orig- inated as far back as 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE). At that time, Emperor Hanmingdi was an advocate of Buddhism. He heard that some monks lit lanterns in the tem- ples to show respect to Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Therefore, he ordered that all the tem-
ples, households, and royal palaces should light lanterns on that evening. This Buddhist custom gradually became a grand festival among the people.
Traditions Activities and Events
According to Chinese tradition, peo- ple get together on the night of the Lan- tern Festival to celebrate with different activities.
As China is a vast country with a long history and diverse cultures, Lantern Fes- tival customs vary regionally including lighting and appreciating lanterns, appre- ciating the bright full moon, setting off fireworks, flying drones, guessing riddles written on lanterns, eating tangyuan, and more.
Here is a list of the events that peo- ple often do to celebrate the Lantern Fes- tival and the meaning behind it.
Lighting and Watching Lanterns
Lighting and appreciating lanterns is the main activity of the festival. When the festival comes, lanterns of various shapes and sizes are seen everywhere including households, shopping malls, parks, and streets—attracting numerous viewers. The lanterns’ artwork vividly demon- strates traditional Chinese images and symbols such as fruits, flowers, birds, ani- mals, people, and buildings.
Lighting lanterns is a way for peo- ple to pray that they will have a smooth future and express their best wishes for their families. Women who want to be pregnant would walk under a hanging lantern praying for a child.
Guessing Lantern Riddles
Lantern owners write riddles on pa- per notes and paste them upon the col- orful lanterns. People crowd around to guess the riddles. If someone thinks they have the right answer, they can pull the riddle off and go to the lantern owner to check their answer. If the answer is right, there is usually a small gift as a prize.
Guessing (solving) lantern riddles, starting in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), is one of the most important and popular activities.
The lion dance is one of the most outstanding traditional dances in Chi- na. Ancient people regarded the lion as a symbol of bravery and strength and thought that it could scare away evil and protect people and their livestocks. Therefore, lion dances are performed at important events, especially the Lan- tern Festival, to ward off evil and pray for good fortune and safety.
During lion dance, the “lion” moves from place to place looking for some green vegetables and red envelopes in which money are hidden inside. The per- formance is very am using and spectators enjoy it very much.
In China, people in northern China eat Yuanxiao (元宵: glutinous rice balls) while people in southern China eat Tangyuan (汤圆: glutinous rice balls) on Lantern Festival.
In fact, Yuanxiao and Tangyuan are both made of glutinous rice flour and filling; there is not much difference be- tween the ingredients. When you take a look at the two, you might not even be able to tell the difference. Although these two glutinous rice balls are similar in raw material and appearance, they are actually two kinds of food with different practices and tastes.
Yuanxiao in Chinese means the eve- ning of the Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival was first called Shangyuanjie (上 元节). Because the most important activ- ities in the evening at Lantern Festival are eating Yuanxiao and enjoying the moon and the lanterns, the name of the festival in Chinese gradually changed into Yuanx- iaojie (元宵节: Yuanxiao Festival).
Tangyuan is a traditional Chinese snack. It is a ball shape food made from glutinous rice flour. Generally, Tangyu- an contains fillings just like Yuanxiao.
It is said that the rice ball symbol- izes a better life and family reunion, eating Tangyuan means a happy new year. It is the essential food for the Lan- tern Festival in south China. In some ar- eas of southern China, people even eat Tangyuan instead of dumplings during the Spring Festival.
A Romantic Celebration
In addition to the celebration of the end of the Chinese New Year, the rarely mentioned part about the festival is that it was traditionally seen as Chinese Val- entine’s Day, providing an opportunity for unmarried men and women to meet.
In ancient times, young women, es- pecially daughters of eminent families, hardly stepped out of their houses. But during the Lantern Festival, it was a tra- dition that all people, including those young women, would come out to watch lantern shows.
Watching lanterns at night was an opportunity for young women to find a man whose appearance appealed to them. Guessing the answers to lantern riddles was an activity that gave young people a chance to interact with each other and get to know more about each other. For thousands of years, there have been numerous love stories originating during the Lantern Festival.
Ancient Chinese poets often ex- pressed their emotions/feelings toward their loved ones during the lantern festi- val. For example, a favorite poem is Lan- tern Festival · The Green Berry 生查子· 元夕 by one of the most famous poets Ouyang Xiu, in which he expressed miss- ing his lover during the lantern festival.
Lantern Festival · The Green Berry By Ouyang Xiu
On the fifteenth spring night last year, The lanterns on the street did glow. The moon was up, the willows below; For their date in twilight they’d go. On the fifteenth spring night this year, The lanterns and moon are still so. Where’s the one here one year ago? To her sleeve her missing tears flow.
Bible Stories Lantern Show in Yilan, Taiwan
Many large lantern shows in Tai- wan were canceled due to COVID-19, however, the smaller ones are making a splash. Yilan’s “The Beautiful Night” Lunar New Year’s Eve streetscape lan- tern show includes the “Bible Stories Lantern Show” to add a more diverse
cultural look. Twelve large themed lan- terns, designed by designer May Chiu, were displayed in Warehouse No. 4 of the Yilan Zhongxing Cultural and Cre- ative Park until March 1, 2021.
Chiu said that the design of the 12 lantern show cars is based on biblical
stories such as “The Angel’s Tidings,” “The Three Doctors of the East,” “The Star of Bethlehem,” and “The Christmas Gift”. Each show car has a biblical verse, which records the origin of the story and embodies the Bible in a spiritual and artistic journey.