Lantern Festival of China

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Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, and is the last day of the Chinese New Year. The first lunar month was once known as “Xiao”, but is now called “yuan month”. The night of the 15th day is the first night of the full moon so the day is also known as Yuan Xiao Festival.

Origin of Lantern Festival

There are many theories as to the origin of the Lantern Festival. Some believe that it revolves around the worship of “Taiyi”, the God of Heaven, who was thought to control virtually everything, including when to inflict storm or drought. Others believe that the festival celebrates the birth of “Tianguan”, the Taoist God responsible for good fortune.

Another legend suggests that the lighting of lanterns arose in the following way. Once upon a time, there were many beasts that harmed livestock, crops and people, so people banded together to chase and kill them. One day, a bird from Heaven came to Earth, got lost and was mistakenly killed by these people. When the God of Heaven found out he was enraged, and decided to send the troops of heaven to set light to the Earth and burn down everything, on the 15th day of the first lunar month. His daughter overheard and she was too kind to let this happen. So she came down to Earth to warn them what her father was planning. Of course the people were frightened, but then someone suggested that from the 14th to 16th of the first lunar month, they should light lanterns, put up colored banners, and ignite fireworks and crackers. This would trick the God of Heaven into believing that everything on the Earth had been burnt to death. They were right. The God of Heaven looked down and saw a sky of red color. He thought the Earth had been destroyed. Thus people saved themselves and the Earth, and to celebrate this day of success people start hanging lanterns and setting off fireworks on the 15th day of the first lunar month every year.

Nowadays, people from different provinces celebrate Lantern Festivals in different ways. But displaying lanterns is still a big event on the 15th day of the first lunar month throughout China. People enjoy the brightly-lit night, and most of them make lanterns and light them. There are lantern riddles for people to guess. They also make and eat “Yuanxiao” or “Tangyuan” (dumpling balls of sticky rice).

Tangyuan汤圆

Finding love

In the early days, young people were chaperoned in the streets in hopes of finding love. Matchmakers acted busily in hopes of pairing couples. The brightest lanterns were symbolic of good luck and hope. As time has passed, the festival no longer has such implications in most of Mainland China, but it is still commercialized as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

月上柳梢头,人约黄昏后
The moon climbs up to the willow, the lovers have the date after dusk.

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