Every year, the Chinese Lantern Festival concludes the Chinese New Year celebrations. It will happen on February 15 of this year.
Two weeks after the Chinese New Year celebration, or on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar year, the Chinese Lantern Festival is held. During this time, the first full moon of the new lunar year also makes an appearance.
Apart from this, the streets are made more lively by hanging colorful lanterns that may have riddles on them, performing dragon and lion dances, and setting off fireworks.
The History of the Chinese Lantern Festival
The celebration of the Chinese Lantern Festival has its roots in the Han Dynasty, which occurred 2,000 years ago. Although its origins are not exactly known, two stories stand out from the rest.
Some believe that the Chinese Lantern Festival was established during the reign of Emperor Ming Han, who practiced Buddhism. One of the traditions of Buddhist monks includes lighting lanterns on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar year. This was done as a sign of respect to Buddha. Because of this, Emperor Ming Han required everyone in the country to follow suit.
Another story involves the Jade Emperor, who believed that some villagers killed the crane he most favored. He was angered and planned to take revenge on the 15th day of the first lunar month by burning down the whole village.
His daughter did not agree with his plan, and in an effort to prevent this from happening, she informed the villagers of what her father wanted to do.
The villagers thought of a creative solution to their problem. They hung red lanterns and set off fireworks to create the illusion of the village burning down. The Jade Emperor fell into their trap and believed that the village was already burning. As a result, the villagers were spared from the emperor’s revenge.
This practice was continued every year to remember what happened and how they were saved with the use of lanterns.
What Happens During the Chinese Lantern Festival?
As is obvious by its name, Chinese lanterns take center stage during this festival. These lanterns vary in size, shape, and design. It is not just limited to the round and red lanterns that some may be more familiar with. Chinese lanterns can now go as big as 65 feet in height and 330 feet in length. They also come in the shapes of giraffes, dragons, flowers, trees, and palaces.
LED lights are also used to give them the glow that candles previously provided them with. This has been a development from the usual paper, silk, bamboo, glass, or jade that were used to make Chinese lanterns.
It is believed that the lighting of lanterns means “illuminating the future”. Individuals pray for a year without any challenges and wish for the best for those whom they hold dearly.
The Chinese lanterns are also decorated with riddles. Citizens partake in an activity called 猜灯谜 or cāidēngmí, wherein they guess the riddles written on the lanterns. They remove the riddle from the lantern if they think that they have figured it out and go to the owner to see if they got the riddle right. Owners sometimes give small gifts as a prize to the one who has solved the riddle.
This activity goes way back to the Song Dynasty. At that time, scholars wrote riddles on pieces of paper that they would later hang on the lanterns. Citizens will then try to figure out what the riddles were trying to say.
However, this practice wasn’t always just for fun. Lanterns were also used as a way for imperial advisors to communicate with the emperor. They would write down their suggestions and put them on the lanterns for the emperor to see.
Citizens enjoy the traditional Chinese New Year dessert, 汤圆 tāngyuán, on this day because of its resemblance to the full moon. It also represents reunion and completeness.
Many also partake in dragon and lion dances during this festival. The lion symbolizes bravery and strength that can protect them from evil. Dragons are regarded as powerful, wise, and benevolent.
A lion dance involves two dancers in one lion suit, each of whom holds the head and rear of the lion. They then dance to the beat of musical instruments such as drums, gongs, and cymbals. The dance moves can include those similar to martial arts and acrobatic tricks.
The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and an increase in wealth.
On the other hand, dragon dances involve more dancers. Similarly, dragon dances are believed to bring the same good fortune as lion dances do.
Fireworks displays are also conducted during the Chinese Lantern Festival. In big cities, these are initiated by the local government, while in rural areas, individuals are allowed to purchase and set off fireworks on their own.
With this, the Spring Festival ends, along with the taboos associated with it. The past year is released together with the lanterns, and a prosperous new year is welcomed.