Often confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival in the fall, the Chinese Lantern Festival is actually the last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations and falls on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. It is supposed to be the first day of the new year when the full moon can be seen. The Lantern Festival is also called the Yuan Xiao Festival in Chinese.
This day marks the last day of the Lunar New Year holiday in early spring (also known as the Spring Festival), and is therefore an occasion for festivities and celebration, before people have to go back to work after the holiday.
Celebrating the Lantern Festival
On the day of the Lantern Festival, people will go out to eat with friends or family, and paper lanterns will be hung outside temples and other buildings. In China, many buildings and even street lights are hung with red lanterns in celebration of the Chinese New Year. People will light fireworks and firecrackers, as well as sky lanterns that, after being lit, float up into the sky like hot air balloons.
Many people who celebrate the Lantern Festival eat the traditional glutinous rice dumplings – known as tang yuan. These round dumplings are filled with sesame-seed paste, peanuts, and other fillings. They are boiled, and then served in a sweet soup flavored with rock sugar and ginger.
In some cities, huge lanterns are built by master craftsmen. Measuring dozens of feet tall and lit by electric lamps from within, these lanterns are shaped like animals, pagodas, and mythical heroes.
Legends of the Chinese Lantern Festival
There are many stories associated with the Chinese Lantern Festival, but one of the most popular of them has to do with the immortal Jade Emperor of Chinese folklore.
According to this legend, the Jade Emperor was angry with a certain village for hunting and killing his favorite goose, which had flown down to earth from heaven. To avenge himself on the villagers, the Jade Emperor planned to destroy the town by fire from heaven. However, the Jade Emperor’s daughter had compassion on the village and told the villagers about her father’s plan.
The villagers, terrified, devised a plan to trick the Jade Emperor into sparing them. On the day of the planned attack, the villagers hung red lanterns up in the village, lit bonfires, and set off firecrackers. When the Jade Emperor’s Imperial Troops arrived at the village, it appeared that the village was already on fire, so they left without harming a single villager. After that, every year on the anniversary of the thwarted attack, the villagers lit lanterns to celebrate their narrow escape from death.