What Is Lantern Festival In China?-Yuan Xiao Jie

Chinese culture is rich and unlike any other culture in the world. And out of the many different things that set the Chinese cultures apart from others is the array of Chinese festivals, all celebrating highly defining moments in Chinese history. One such celebration is the Chinese Lantern Festival. But what exactly is this celebration all about?

What Is The Chinese Lantern Festival?

Yuanxiao Jie
lantern festival yuan xiao jie

Well, the Chinese Lantern Festival is an important celebration that is marked on every 15th day of the very first lunar month, and only 2 weeks after the bigger Chinese New Year celebration – which is the other great and important traditional Chinese festival. It’s important to note that the Lantern Festival is also known as the Shangyuan Festival or the Yuanxiao Jie Festival. This celebration is intended to mark the very first full moon for the new lunar year, as well as the end to the Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival Period. This celebration will next take place on Tuesday, February 15th, 2022.

On this day, the streets are all decorated with very colorful lanterns, and oftentimes, there are many riddles on the lanterns. During these celebrations, people eat all kinds of celebratory foods, such as the sweet rice balls known as the tangyuan. The celebrations also feature watching the lion and the dragon dances and also setting off the fireworks.

How To Say Lantern Festival In Chinese

The Chinese Lantern Festival is Yuánxiāo jié in Chinese, which is spelled元宵节. Another variation of the Lantern festival in Chinese is Yuánxiāo kuàilè 元宵快乐.

Why Is The Chinese Lantern Festival Important?

The Lantern Festival is a huge Chinese celebration that is celebrated throughout China and in all other Asian countries as a way to honor the ancestors. It’s celebrated on the 15th day of the very first month or Yuan of the Lunar calendar, and the importance of this festival or day is that it is a celebration meant to encourage and promote peace, reconciliation, as well as forgiveness.

This holiday is also meant to mark the new Lunar Year’s full moon and also an end to the celebrations for the Chinese New Year. So, like any other Chinese celebration, this festival is one in which the homes and even business establishments of the Chinese people will all be festooned with very colorful lanterns with riddles on some of the lanterns. Correct answers to the riddled will earn the solver a small gift.

Why Is The Chinese Lantern Festival Celebrated?

The Chinese lantern festival is celebrated as a show of forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation. And the round balls common in these festivities are symbolic of unity and wholeness in a family.

So, why is this celebration very important?

Shangyuan Jie
lantern festival traditions

Essentially, the Lantern Festival dates back centuries and is believed to have started during the reign of the Han Dynasty between 206 and 220BCE when the Buddhist monks lit up lanterns on the same day (15th day in the Chinese lunar calendar) as a way of honoring the Buddha. Later on, the rites and celebrations were adopted by the rest of the Chinese and later Asian population. Between 58 and 75CE, when the festival is believed to have started, the Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty was one of the Buddhist followers – at this time, Buddhism was quite popular across China, and so, Emperor Ming, being the ardent supporter of the Buddhist beliefs, and after learning that lighting of the lanterns was customary among the Buddhist monks decreed that the celebration would be marked throughout the nation. In this decree, the imperial palaces and all the individual households would celebrate the festival the same way the Buddhist monks did. Since then, the practice still stands, and today, the Lantern Festival is one of the biggest Chinese celebrations.

One legend around this festival and its origins point to the tales of the Jade Emperor called You Di. This emperor was quite angered after a certain town killed his goose, and in a plan to destroy the said city with fire, was thwarted by the fairy who went on to advise the people to light up lanterns throughout the town that the emperor planned to burn down, on the same day that the emperor planned to destroy the town. The people heeded the advice of the fairy, and all the light from the lanterns fooled the emperor into thinking that the town had been engulfed in flames already. Besides the bright lights from the lanterns, there also were firecrackers and also lighting fires that all fooled the emperor. So, with the town spared, the people continued to commemorate the day in gratitude, and they kept on the colorful tradition of carrying colorful lanterns all across town.

Through the ages, the Lantern Festival soon turned into this very popular Chinese holiday. And thanks to the cultural influences of the Chinese culture on many Asian countries, it wasn’t long until this festival was celebrated in the rest of the Asian countries like Japan and Korea.

Over the years, the Lantern Festival continues to be celebrated with different levels of pomp, in different circumstances. During the Tang Dynasty’s reign between 618 and 907CE, for example, the Lantern Festival spanned 3 days, then the celebrations lasted 5 days in the Song Dynasty’s time between 960 and 1279CE, and by the time the Ming Dynasty took over the reins between 1368-1644, the celebrations lasted up to 10 days.

Chinese Lantern Festivals and Chinese Valentine’s

These are two separate events today, but there was a time when the Chinese Lantern Festival was associated with love, and this was a deep belief to the extent that some people considered the Lantern Festival the real Chinese Valentine’s Day. However, these are now noted as different festivals, and the Qixi Festival is what’s associated with Valentine’s Day.

What Is The Purpose Of The Chinese Lantern Festival?

Yuanxiao Jie or The Lantern Festival is a celebration of the first full moon night as prescribed in the Chinese calendar. This celebration is meant to mark the anticipation of the return of spring, and it also symbolizes a family reunion.

Traditionally, this festival was also referred to as the Spring Festivals’ Last Day. And after the Lantern Festival, all the Chinese New Year taboos cease to be in effect, and all the New Year celebrations’ décor is taken down.

How To Celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival?

The Lantern Festival is a celebration that is full of activities such as displays, lantern-guessing riddles, and eating of tangyuan, among other kinds of celebratory foods. There is also a lot of dancing involved, and the most important dancing style that attracts the highest number of spectators is watching the lion and dragon dances. And, of course, fireworks!

When Is The Chinese Lantern Festival?

The festival is marked on the Lunar Calendar’s 15th day of the first month during the full moon.

Chinese Lantern Festival Traditions

lantern festival food

Lighting and watching/ appreciating the lanterns is the primary activity that is observed during the festival. There are lanterns everywhere during the festivities, from homes to parks, streets, and shopping malls. The lit lanterns are not only bright and beautiful, but ancient Chinese traditions regard the lanterns as objects that invoke good fortune. Lighting the lanterns is also symbolic of the illumination of the future, and it’s seen as a way for people to pray for smoother futures while also expressing their best for their families. There also are many lantern fairs held in China during the festivals.

The other significant part of the celebrations has to do with the riddles on the lanterns. These dates back to the Song Dynasty 960-1279CE, and the persons who solve the riddles get small gifts.

The other important parts of the Lantern Festival include:

Eating tangyuan, also called Yuanxiao, refers to balls of boiled rice in sweet soup. These rice balls are not just tasty but also represent completeness and reunion. The Chinese people believe that the rounded shaped items represent togetherness and wholeness; and there is a popular lucky saying thrown around during the festival – Tuántuán yuányuán, meaning Happy (Family) Reunion!

Watching Dragon and Lion Dances – The lion is a symbol of strength and bravery, while the dragon is worshipped by the Chinese people as a symbol of good luck.

Chinese Lantern Festival Foods?

Food or eating is an important part of the celebration, and tangyuan is the main food eaten.

The rounded shape of this food represents completeness and wholeness, its sweet taste represents a sweet and happy life, and Tangyuan also represents a reunion of family and also happiness and harmony. In some cases, Yuanxiao is served in the customary fermented soup called tianjiu.

Lantern Festival vs. Mid-Autumn

The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Mooncake, or the Moon Festival, is a celebration of friends, family, and also the coming harvest. Like Lantern Festival, it is celebrated often on the night of the full moon, between early September and October, but not on the 15th day of the Lunar Year. The Mid-autumn festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Since the celebration is on the full moon day, people spend most of the time for the celebration on the rooftops, where they have fun with the family while praying for good fortune and longevity, even as they give thanks for their fall harvest.

The story behind this festival is also different and has nothing to do with lanterns or the emperor planning to burn down a town’s celebration, but more about a celebration of life and life’s seasons, family, and harvest.

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