The Lantern Festival

 

The Lantern Festival 元宵節 in Chinese is a traditional Chinese festival with great significance, which falls on the 15th of the first lunar month, marking the end of New Year celebrations. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns.

The origins of Chinese lanterns reach back to the Stone Age. The coming of the Bronze Age saw the development of various kinds of worked metal lanterns, of which palace lanterns were the most ornate. Later, decorative lanterns came to be used in festivals. Various lantern festivals became quite popular during the Sui Dynasty (581- 618), and during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 -1279) whereby the custom of writing riddles on lanterns emerged.

The biggest attraction of the Lantern Festival is the sea of lanterns in every conceivable size and shape. The Chinese started to celebrate the Lantern Festival during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-221 AD), and then it became popular during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. This is a festival for people to have fun. At night, people go into the streets with a variety of lanterns under the full moon and watch the lion or dragon dance, trying to solve Chinese riddles and play games.

As the name implies, an important part of the Lantern Festival, or Yuan Xiao Festival, is to eat small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour. We call these balls Yuan Xiao, or Tang Yuan. Obviously, they get the name from the festival itself. Made of sticky rice flour filled with sweet or salty stuffing and round in shape, the dumpling symbolises family unity, completeness and happiness.

When it comes to the Lantern Festival, “Guessing lantern riddles” is an essential component. Lantern owners will write riddles on a piece of paper and post them on the lanterns in advance. If visitors can answer the riddles, they can just pull the paper out and go to the lantern owners to check their answers. If they are right, they will get a little gift. The activity emerged during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). As riddle guessing is interesting and full of wisdom, it has become popular among all social strata.

In the daytime, there are performances, such as the dragon lantern dance, lion dance, land boat dance, and some will walk on stilts and beat drums while dancing. At night, in addition to magnificent lighted lanterns, fireworks form a grand scene. Most families save some fireworks from the Spring Festival and set them off during the Lantern Festival. Some local governments will even organise a fireworks party. On the night when the first full moon enters the New Year, people become really intoxicated by the imposing fireworks and bright moon in the sky.

The dragon dance is often performed during the Chinese New Year period. Chinese dragons are a symbol of China, and they are believed to bring good luck to people, therefore the longer the dragon in the dance, the more luck it will bring to the community. The dragons are believed to possess qualities that include great power, dignity, fertility, wisdom and auspiciousness.

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