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Lantern Festival

An Introduction to Lantern Festival

The 15th of January according to the lunar Chinese calendar is Lantern Festival. The night of 15th of January according to the lunar Chinese calendar is the first full-moon night in the New Year. People treat it as a symbol of New Year and celebrate on that day. They appreciate the bright moon, appreciate the beautiful lanterns, burn fireworks, guess lantern riddles and eat yuanxiao (stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice flour served in soup) together. For its rich and colorful activities, it is regarded as the most recreational among all the Chinese festivals and a festival for appreciating the bright full moon, and family reunion.

The Lantern Festival is also popularly referred to as Chinese Valentine's Day. In the past, it was the only day of the year a single woman could go out (chaperoned) and be seen by eligible bachelors. Now, many single people gather at the Festival, and some play matchmaking games with the lanterns.

The origin of Lantern Festival
There are many different beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival. But one thing for sure is that it had something to do with religious worship.

One tales tells us that it was a time to worship Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times. The belief was that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. He had sixteen dragons at his beck and call and he decided when to inflict drought, storms or pestilence upon human beings. Beginning with Qinshihuang, the first emperor to unite the country, all subsequent emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favorable weather and good health to him and his people. Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty directed special attention to this event. In 104 BC, he proclaimed it one of the most important celebrations and the ceremony would last throughout the night.

Another tales associates the Lantern Festival with Taoism. Tianguan is the Taoist god responsible for good fortune. His birthday falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It is said that Tianguan likes all types of entertainment. So followers prepare various kinds of activities in the day which they pray for good fortune.

Activities in Lantern Festival  
Eating Yuanxiao
Eat in Yuanxiao is the long lasted tradition in China. Yuanxiao is also called as Tangyuan in some places. It is a kind of stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice flour served in soup. Suger, rose, sesames, bean paste, walnut kernel, jujube powder can be stuffed in Yuanxiao. Yuanxiao is round in shape so it is endowed with the meaning of reunion, harmony and happiness. It is also a symbol of staying together. During the night of the festival, family members sit together to taste yuanxiao and appreciate the full moon.

Seeing Lanterns
In the years of Yongle (58A.D to 75), Han Dynasty, Ming Emperor promoted Buddhism highly. A famous monk named Cai Yin came back from India. He told Ming Emperor that monks in India get together and look the Buddhist bones with reverence on 15th of January. Ming Emperor ordered to light lanterns in the court and temples on 15th of January according to the Chinese lunar calendar. He did this to show his sincerity to the Buddhist and this deeds spread to the folk places. From that time on, people light lanterns in the night of 15th of January according to the Chinese lunar calendar to celebrate the Lantern Festival.

Guessing lantern riddles
Guessing lantern riddles is a popular activity added during the Lantern Festival. It appeared in the Song Dynasty. In the very beginning, some people wrote riddles on the lantern and people guess them. If one has an answer to a riddle, he can pull the paper from the lantern to let organizers verify the answer. Gifts are presented to the people who get the right answers. Because the lantern riddles are good for brain exercising and it is very interesting, this activity formally formed in Southern Song Dynasty.

Folk Dances: Walking on Stilts and Lion Dance
Walking on stilts traces its origins to the Spring and Autumn period (770BC - 476BC). Performers not only walk on stilts by binding them to their feet, but also do some breathtakingly difficult moves. As actors impersonate different characters like monks, clowns, and fishermen and perform vivid and humorous acts.
The lion dance is an excellent traditional art that adds infinite fun to any celebration including the Lantern Festival. Two performing types have formed during its long development. In north China, the lion dance focuses on skills, and in the south the lion dance pays more attention to the animal resemblance. One actor manipulates a small lion made of quilts resembling a real one, and with two persons acting like a big lion, one manages the head part and the other, the rest. Under the guidance of a director, the lions sometimes jump, leap, and do difficult acts such as walking on stilts. Because the acting is always amusing, spectators enjoy it very much.

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