The Chinese Lantern Festival takes place at the end of the Chinese New Year celebration
which is fifteen days after Chinese New Year day. It coincides with the first full
moon of the New Year.
The Chinese Lantern Festival is the most ancient of all Chinese festivals. Historians
have traced this celebration to ancient fire worship, fertility rites and the honoring
of the birth of Daoism and Buddhism. The exact origin is still debated by scholars
Stories and legends vary from the Chinese chasing spirits by lantern light to a lonely
girl during the Han Dynasty tricking the emperor to have a festival. During the
T’ang Dynasty, families simply watch in awe the beauty of the full moon after the
Chinese Lantern Festival
Photo Credit: Lantern Festival 06 5 & 06 3 - Yee Wong
While the Chinese New Year focuses on the family, the Chinese Lantern Festival involves
the entire community. The Chinese Lantern Festival has evolved to have religious,
civic, political and commercialism elements. Displaying the lanterns, watching
lion and dragon dances, and eating festival foods are activities on this special
The night is usually lit by a full moon. The Chinese believed that the evil spirits
roam free on the night of the full moon after the New Year. The community gathers
during the night to show their lit lanterns which is usually made of silk, paper
or wood. It is believed that the light from the lanterns is supposed to ward off
the evil spirits because the lantern light makes the evil spirits visible. Afraid
of being seen, the evil spirits run from the lanterns.
Chinese Lantern Festival - Facts & Rituals
The Lantern and the Chinese Lantern Festival hold some of the mystic behind the Chinese
traditions and culture:
Lanterns first appeared in Chinese culture in 250 BCE. Historically, they have been
used to announce major events such as birth or death in the family.
Red lanterns placed outside announced a birth or a wedding. Blue lanterns indicated
family illness. Two lanterns placed on either side of a door with a white strip
of material draped across the doorway signified a death in the family.
During the day of the Chinese Lantern Festival, the Chinese visit friends and relatives.
Matchmakers go from house to house to arrange marriages for families during the Chinese
Tang Yuan or full moon dumplings are eaten during this festival. These white flour
rice balls are stuffed with a variety of fillings and are cooked in a broth soup.
The round Tang Yuan dumplings are symbolic of the full moon and family union. The
Chinese believed that eating the white dumplings under lantern light will make them
clear-sighted and focused.
Today, the Chinese wear white outfits to honor the moon.
In modern times, lanterns are hung in shopping malls and markets as the Chinese Lantern
Festival is being commercialized.
Children carry paper lanterns to school. The lantern light is symbolic of providing
a bright future.
As a westerner venturing to China whether on business or pleasure, you need to observe
the local tradition of adhering to this event as a day for relaxation and leisure.