Chinese Lantern Festival in a Nutshell
China is among the top of the countries popular for their traditions, customs and rituals. It has made a
name for itself for being one of the most cultural countries to ever exist, because of its ancient history
and grandiose lands with colorful hills and valleys.
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The Time to Celebrate
Chinese nation celebrates festivals with lot of zeal and fervor; hence their festivals are site to behold.
Festivals which depict China’s vibrant color are celebrated based on the lunar calendar. Many festivals are
ready to take off from the beginning of the New Year.
Amongst the hue of festivals celebrated by the Chinese nation throughout the year, Chinese Lantern
Festival has its own distinguishing place and cultural significance in the history of China. The Lantern
Festival or the Spring Lantern Festival is a Chinese festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first
month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It marks the final day of the traditional Chinese New Year
Lantern Festival – The Beginning
Most of festivals are old and some of the Chinese festivals are as old as centuries, especially those
Chinese festivals that mark century’s old traditions that are deeply rooted inside of community and
represent a colorful yet symbolic meaning. The Lanterns Festival is one of the most celebrated festivals
around the world, where lanterns are lighted and blown away in the sky in thousands of numbers.
The history of lantern festival goes back 2000 years at the time of Dynasty of Han, in which Buddhism
was actively promoted by the then Empror Hanmingdi. In those days, on every fifteenth day of the first
month in lunar calendar, monks used to light lanterns, that day represented the full moon. After hearing
about this, the emperor, in order to pay tribute to the Buddha, decided to announce that all families,
royal sects and temples will light lanterns in the evening of that day.
There is one legend that states that it was a time to worship Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times.
The belief was that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. He had
sixteen dragons at his beck and call and he decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine or pestilence
upon human beings. Beginning with Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who named China, all the
emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favorable
weather and good health to him and his people.
Wudi of the Han Dynasty directed special attention to this event. In 104 BCE, he proclaimed it to be one
of the most important celebrations and the ceremony would last throughout the night.
This tradition has continued up till now and a huge number of people are seen joining Chinese societies
around the world to celebrate this festival.
Three Types of Lanterns
Lanterns having the public eye on the day of lantern festival can be found in three different varieties.
Decorations at homes and public places are done with hanging lanterns. Each and every space of the
streets is covered with these lanterns and it is believed that it draws protection to the people.
A ritual for the festival is to release lanterns in the night sky, for this purpose flying lanterns are used,
which are normally filled with hot air (same as hot air balloon).
Another type of lanterns seen on the festival is the floating lanterns, which are normally used in Dragon
Boat Festival but they can also be seen hither and thither in the lakes or ponds as well.
The merriments of the lantern festival are incomplete without them.
Symbolism of Lantern Design
Lanterns are usually red, and in china, each color is a symbol towards some earthly quality. Colors like
red, orange, pink, white are mostly used but if it’s a flying lantern you will see masses of white-colored
lanterns flying as high as possible in the air.
The shape also holds integral meaning, such as the round shape represents the wholeness and
togetherness in China, which is an unbreakable bond. Besides, the engravings hold significance as a
traditional way of wishing the greetings or some popular phrases that chase the evil away.
It’s rather enthralling to see the pictures of dragons drawn alongside. Mostly the zodiac animal of the
year is drawn to symbolize its importance in the Chinese culture.
Significance of Lantern
Started as an honor or a tribute to Buddha, beforehand they were used mainly to provide light while
worshipping or for decorations. If you travel to Forbidden City or Pingyao’s Ancient City, don’t be
surprised if you see the lanterns hanging all year round. Thanks to Emperor Hanmingdi, it became a
proper festival. Now lanterns have taken a U-turn for good and represent spiritual superstition as well,
said to belief channeling Buddhist deities. With time the meaning and symbolism of lanterns have
evolved just like the Chinese language.
Traditional Food on Lantern Festival
Every festival consists of something special to taste, and how can the lantern festival be without any?
Yuanxiao, a dumpling made from sticky rice flour is stuffed with various fillings and symbolizes the
Similar to other food items put on the table, this dumpling is popular for its shape and various fillings
each with a unique taste. An array of similar recipes are put on the table and an auspicious meal is
enjoyed under the full moon with friends and family.
Chinese Lantern Festival celebrates reunion of families and societies. It portrays ancient spiritual
traditions. Some also call this the “true” Chinese Valentine’s Day. The next Lantern Festival will be
celebrated on February 26, 2021.