The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the Chinese first lunar month. It traditionally marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It also the first significant festival after Chinese New Year. It also called ‘Yuanxiao’Festival , Yuan in Chinese means the beginning. Which means the first month of the lunar calendar. While" xiao "in ancient Chinese means evening. So" Yuanxiao " also refers to the fifteenth day of the first full moon of the year. The Lantern Festival in 2022 falls on February 15(Tuesday). There is no public holiday for this feast.

It is not a day only for families reunion. People will go out for appreciating the bright full moon, watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles and etc. Chinese people really enjoy the time together while with their family and friends during these day.

The Origin of Lantern Festival


The Lantern Festival is a feast with a history of over 2,000 years. During the reign of Emperor HanMingdi( Around 25–220), he was strongly advocated of Buddhism. He heard that some monks lit lanterns in the temples to show respect to Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. So he ordered that all the temples, households, and royal palaces should light lanterns on that evening. So this Buddhist custom gradually became a grand festival among the people. The Lantern Festival is also known as the "Shangyuan Festival". This argument comes from the Taoist "sanyuan".

Traditional Customs

There are various traditional customs and activities to be held during Lantern Festival. But Lanterns are the most notable part of the festival as you can probably tell by the name. Nowadays Chinese people celebrate this holiday by enjoying colored lantern displays, Guessing lantern riddles and eating sweet rice balls called tangyuan.

Lighting and Watching Lanterns


The most important part of the Lantern Festival is lighting and appreciating lanterns. When people think of Chinese lanterns, they may imagine the round, red, basket-ball sized lanterns they have seen hanging outside Chinese restaurants. However the lanterns involved in Lantern Festival displays are quite different. You can see lanterns various shapes and sizes (traditional globes, fish, dragons, goats and etc) everywhere including households, shopping malls, parks, and streets, during the festival. Children may hold small lighted lanterns while walking the streets.

The lanterns' artwork vividly demonstrates traditional Chinese images and symbols such as fruits, flowers, birds, animals, people, and buildings. People used to use bamboo, paper, silk and candle to make lanterns. But now most of them are made with fabric stretched over wire frames and lit with thousands of LED lights.

Do you know the Lantern Festival is also a Chinese valentine's Day? In ancient Chinese, a young men may invite his favorite girl together to see the lantern on this day. Now there is a festival called “Stealing vegetables festival”which popular among Miao nationality in Guizhou province, is also held on the 15th day of the first lunar month. On this day, girls on in groups to steal vegetable from others farm. The owner won’t blame them. It is said that a girl who “steal”the vegetable most will meet the nice guy to marry with the faster.

Guessing lantern riddles

lantern riddles

Guessing (solving) lantern riddles is beginning from the Song Dynasty (960–1279) and it is one of the most important and popular activities of the Lantern Festival. The ancient Chinese would get together with some friends, drink wine and write poetry during this day. But now people write riddles on paper notes and pasted them upon the colorful lanterns to let visitors guess. If one has an answer to a riddle and believe it is right, they can pull the paper to let lanterns owner to verify it. There is usually a small gift as a prize if the answer is right. As riddle guessing is interesting and exciting, people from all walks of life love it.

Watching lion dances

lion dance

The lion dance is one of the most excellent traditional folk dances in China. People usually performed it on big occasions, such as the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) for good luck, as well as the others festive event, from holidays to weddings and store openings. Ancient Chinese regarded the lion as a symbol of boldness and strength, and thought that it could protect people and their livestock. People perform the lion dance not only for enjoy the show but also for prays for the happy and health life.

The lion dance requires two highly-trained performers in a lion suit. one manages the head part and the other, the rest. Under the guidance of a director, the "lion" sometimes jump, leap, roll, and dances to the beat of a drum and cymbals.

Eating Tangyuan (Yuanxiao)


Eating tangyuan is an important custom of the Lantern Festival. Tangyuan also called Yuanxiao. It has the meaning of celebration and family reunion, and people believe to eat it on these days is good for the health. Especially boiled these ball-shaped dumplings with ginger soup can warm the spleen and stomach.

The way to making Tangyuan or Yuanxiao is quite difference. In the northern of China , people usually make the filling first. Cut it into four even squares, then put the stuffing into a sieve or machine, pour in the rice noodles to make them stick to the rice noodles while shaking. The rice noodles absorb water and become soft when they are boiled. While in the southern of China, these ball-shaped dumplings are made of f sticky rice flour stuffed with different fillings,such as white sugar, brown sugar, sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, rose petals, bean paste, and jujube paste or a combination of ingredients. They are usually sweet and fragrant. Yuanxiao can be boiled, fried, or steamed, and each has a delicious taste, which make it very popular.

In Chinese, tangyuan is pronounced similarly to tuanyuan (团圆group round), which means the whole family gathering together happily, so Chinese people believe that the round shape of the balls and their bowls symbolize wholeness and togetherness.

Therefore, eating tangyuan on the Lantern Festival is a way for Chinese people to express their best wishes for their family and their future lives. It is the best time for Chinese people to sitting together with their families to taste Tangyuan and appreciate the full moon.

Further reading:
Mid-Autumn Festival
Food and Takeout on China’s Trains