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The Lantern Festival: China’s Little New Year

Published by Luis Southern

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The Lantern Festival marks the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. For this reason, although it’s not quite as significant a holiday as the beginning of the year, it is also known as the Little New Year. The name of the festival is self-explanatory: cities across China are lit with thousands of lanterns in different shapes and sizes. Yuanxiao, the Chinese name for the festival, is also the name of the sweet rice balls that are eaten then.

There are a variety of stories pertaining to the origin of the Lantern Festival. The simplest is that the festival developed from Taoism. The birthday of the Taoist god of good fortune, Tianguan, is the 15th day of the new year−the day Lantern Festival is celebrated. Tianguan loves a good party, so it only makes sense that his birthday would be celebrated with brightly lit lanterns of imaginative designs.

The Accoutrements of Lantern Festival

Regardless of its origin, Lantern Festival is all about and celebrating the New Year having a good time with family. The 15th night of the Chinese New Year is a full moon, where night-time visibility is at its best. It’s Chinese tradition to hang lanterns on these nights, where their beauty can be appreciated. Children are given lanterns with puzzles on them to solve, and sweet rice balls are a traditional food.

While children traditionally walked the streets with lanterns during the festival night, this isn’t as widespread anymore due to the safety of the streets after dark. However, many children will carry lanterns to temples with their parents.

Celebrating Lantern Festival

Many Chinese cities hold lantern fairs and competitions. In Taiwan a gigantic lantern of an animal from the Chinese zodiac is erected in a large city each year. While traditional lanterns are made from paper or wood, many larger cities now use lanterns constructed of neon lights. There are many grandiose lantern designs, such as the Dragon Pole that graces the skyline of Chengdu, China. This 81-foot lantern is a dragon winding upwards around a pole. Fireworks shoot through its mouth.

Some places in Taiwan and China make sky lanterns. People write wishes on a lantern and set it outside. Superstition says the lantern will rise up to heaven where the gods will receive the wishes. Adolescents in Taiwan enjoy the Mass Firecracker Artillery. In this interesting event, people stand surrounded by firecrackers and wait for them to go off. It’s said to be good luck if a firecracker hits you. Protective clothing is a must though!

The beautiful lanterns, exciting firecrackers, and yuanxiao to eat make for a great end to a wonderful beginning. It makes the Chinese New Year come full circle−the celebration of the new year begins with fireworks, good food and family, and ends the same way.

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