Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Festival)

By Ron Lee

The traditional Chinese Lantern Festival known as the Yuanxiao Festival falls on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month. The word “Yuan” means month and on the 15th and the night is bright. The Chinese word for night is “Xiao”, hence the night of the full moon is like a lantern illuminating the sky.

The Shangyuan Festival, Zhongyuan Festival, Xiayuan Festival are Lantern Festivals that all hold ceremonies of festival lanterns on the 15th originates from the Taoist “Theory of Three Yuan”: the 15th Festival; that of the seventh lunar month is the Zhongyuan Festival; and that of the 10th the Xiayuan Festival. The three yuan are officials in charge of heaven, earth and the human world.

The officials of heaven, earth and humanity like joyful objects so lanterns are lit in celebration. Since the custom of lighting lanterns during the Qin Dynasty, the Yuanxiao festivals have undergone generations of development in following dynasties into developing a variety of lanterns such as mirror-like lanterns, phoenix lanterns, colored glaze lanterns, and many others. The setting off of fireworks during the lantern festival adds to the festival atmosphere that paints a tapestry of sparkling busts of light.

There is also the game of guessing lantern riddles on the Chinese Characters decorating the lamps. The answer to the riddle is disguised behind a beautiful poem or common saying that is written of a piece of paper and pasted on the inside of the lantern.

The game of guessing Lantern riddles first appears during the Song dynasty (1127-1179) with the tradition that solving riddles present people with both knowledge and happiness. Eating rice glue balls is a custom of the Lantern Festival that originates during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC).

The rice glue ball is called “tangyuan” or “yuanzi” that is made of glutinous rice (sticky rice). The rice balls may be plain or stuffed with sugar, bean paste, hawthorne or other fried fruits. Rice balls may be boiled, steamed or fried and when eating these delicacies on the night when the moon is full for the first time means one wishes for a happy reunion and a peaceful life.

Eating rice glue balls is a custom of the Lantern Festival that originates during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). The rice glue ball is called “tangyuan” or “yuanzi” that is made of glutinous rice (sticky rice). The rice balls may be plain or stuffed with sugar, bean paste, hawthorne or other fried fruits. Rice balls may be boiled, steamed or fried and when eating these delicacies on the night when the moon is full for the first time means one wishes for a happy reunion and a peaceful life.

As time goes by more activities are added and the festival continues to evolve.