Chinese Lantern Festival

Chinese lantern festival -- The end of Chinese New Year on the 15th of the first lunar month, known in Chinese as Yuan2 Xiao1 元宵 , is celebrated by eating glutinous rice balls called tang1 yuan2 汤圆 with family and carrying Chinese paper lanterns under the full moon.

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Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. It's called yuan2 xiao1 jie2 元宵节 .

This day is celebrated at night with lantern displays and dragon dances. Some of the lanterns are works of art. They are painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon. (In the Chinese calendar, the full moon falls on the 15th each month.)

On Yuan Xiao, Chinese people eat tang1 yuan2 or glutinous rice balls filled with sesame or peanut. In fact, tang1 yaun2 and yuan2 xiao1 mean the same thing. Eating tang1 yuan2 symbolizes family reunion.

How did the lantern festival come about? Why do people carry lanterns and eat tang1 yuan2 on Yuan Xiao?

The lantern festival dates back over 2,000 years and there’s more than one story behind it.

The first story goes that the during Han Dynasty (>2,000 years ago), there was a maid named Yuan Xiao in the palace of Emperor Wu Di. Yuan Xiao missed her parents and cried every day.

On seeing this, the official Dong Fang Shuo decided to help her. Dong Fang told he Emperor that the Fire God will burn Chang An (the capital city) on the 15th of the first lunar month. In order to escape the ordeal, the only way is to let Yuan Xiao prepare the Fire God’s favorite glutinous rice balls, and everyone carries lanterns on that day. The Emperor agreed and on this day Yuan Xiao finally reunited with her family. And so the glutinous rice balls were called Yuan Xiao and the tradition of celebrating Yuan Xiao was passed on.

Another legend goes that the Jade Emperor felt lonely even though he lived very comfortably. When he learnt that people on Earth lived happily, he became angry. He sent the Magic Goose who breathed flames to burn up the world on the fifteen day of the first lunar month.

A maid beside the Jade Emperor found out about the emperor’s intentions and hurriedly flew down to earth to warn people about it. The maid also told the people that once the Magic Goose was caged it could no longer breathe out flames.

A clever man got an idea. He called up his fellow citizens to make red lanterns immediately.

When the Magic Goose landed on earth, it was immediately caught and locked up in a cage, before it could breathe out flames. People then lit their lanterns and set off fireworks and firecrackers.

The Jade Emperor thought it was the fire set by the Magic Goose and was fooled.

So now, every 15th day of the lunar new year everyone carries brightly lit lanterns to celebrate the occasion!

That’s how the lantern festival came about.

According to these legends anyway.


Return to Chinese New Year Activities -- from reunion dinner to the lantern festival