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You are here: Home > Chinese Festivals Calendars & Info > Other Festivals > Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival 2015: March 5, 2012

Its Origin and Importance to the Chinese

The Lantern Festival, also known as the Shang Yuan Festival is a very important holiday in the Chinese culture. The festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month in the lunar year on the Chinese calendar and signifies the end of the Chinese New Year. Children participate in this festival by going to temples at night with rabbit-shaped lanterns. The lanterns are lit and have riddles upon them, which the children enjoy trying to answer. It is a traditional holiday for the Chinese, holding many mysteries still today.

Ancient Celebration

The Lantern Festival featured much less brilliant lanterns than can be seen today in the streets of China. Only the emperor and noblemen had elaborate lanterns in their possession. Today, lanterns are very articulate and can be quite big. The earliest origins of the festival had the purpose of uniting families, nature, and higher beings who were believed to bring back the lights for the next year's celebration. When the Lantern Festival actually began is not clear.

What Legend Says

There are a few legends about how the holiday originated. Here are a few of the more popular versions:


Taoism Tianguan is the god of good fortune. His birthday falls on the 15th day of the 1st month of the lunar year. It is believed by some that Tianguan enjoyed entertainment, so people began praying to him for good fortune and celebrated with various activities to keep Tianguan happy.

Taiyi This is the God of Heaven. It was believed in ancient times that he controlled the destiny of humans and their physical world, so people would honor him with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations to ask for his favor for the coming year. In the year 104 BC, Emperor Wudi declared the Lantern Festival one of the most important holidays of the year, and announced that the celebration would last all night.

Buddha Emperor Mingdi of the Han Dynasty had a dream one night of a golden man in his palace. In his dream he was about to ask the gold man who he was, and suddenly the figure floated towards the west out of his site. The next day, Emperor Mingdi sent a scholar to fetch Buddhist scriptures from India. When the scholar returned, Emperor Mingdi had a temple built to honor Buddha. It is believed that Buddha can transcend darkness, and lighted lanterns were placed in the temple, which is now the Lantern Festival today.

Yuanxiao Dumplings for the Lantern Festival

It is a tradition to ear Yuanxiao dumplings during the Lantern Festival festivities. Yuanxiao was a maid in ancient times that made these small dumplings to please the fire god. They were believed to bring about family unity and complete happiness. They are made from glutinous rice flour. They can be sweet or salty, and are prepared a bit differently in different parts of China. They are still an important part of the Lantern Festival celebrations.

A Modern Celebration

Today, the Chinese still enjoy this festive event by lighting lanterns all over the country. Those who do not hold lanterns get to enjoy spectacular parades and presentations of lights. The lanterns have become very stylish in modern times, as well as larger than life in some cases. The Dragon Pole is by far the most popular lantern. It spirals up 27 feet and spews fireworks from its mouth.

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