Falling on the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar Year, the Lantern Festival takes place under a full moon, and marks the end of Chinese New Year festivities. The Lantern Festival dates back to shrouded legends of the Han Dynasty over 2000 years ago.
Legend of the Lantern Festival’s Origin
In one such legend, the Jade Emperor in Heaven was so angered at a town for killing his favorite goose, that he decided to destroy it with a storm of fire. However, a good-hearted fairy heard of this act of vengeance, and warned the people of the town to light lanterns throughout the town on the appointed day. The townsfolk did as they were told, and from the Heavens, it looked as if the village was ablaze. Satisfied that his goose had already been avenged, the Jade Emperor decided not to destroy the town. From that day on, people celebrated the anniversary of their deliverance by carried lanterns of different shapes and colors through the streets on the first full moon of the year, providing a spectacular backdrop for lion dances, dragon dances, and fireworks.
The Modern Lantern Festival
While the Lantern Festival has changed very little over the last two millennia, technological advances have made the celebration more and more complex and visually stimulating. Indeed, the festival as celebrated in some places can put even the most garish American Christmas decorations to shame. They often sport unique displays of light that leave the viewer in awe.
Master craftsman will construct multicolored paper lanterns in the likeness of butterflies, dragons, birds, dragonflies, and many other animals; these accentuate the more common, red, spherical lanterns. Brilliantly-lit floats and mechanically driven light displays draw the attention of the young and old alike. Sometimes, entire streets are blocked off, with lanterns mounted above and to the sides, creating a hallway of lamps. Some cities in North China even make lanterns from blocks of ice! And just as in days gone by, the billion-watt background sets the scene for dragon and lion dances, parades, and other festivities.
Yuan Xiao and Tang Yuan
Yuan Xiao and Tang Yuan are balls of glutinous rice, sometimes rolled around a filling of sesame, peanuts, vegetable, or meat. Tang Yuan are often cooked in red-bean or other kinds of soup. The round shape symbolizes wholeness and unity.