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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society Traditions >> Chinese New Year

Chinese Lantern Festival

The Chinese Lantern Festival signifies the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations by the time the first full moon of the year comes out. At this time, lanterns are hung in public places and outside. This year of the tiger, the Lantern Festival is on February 28, 2010.

The lanterns of the Lantern Festival are very apt for spring, as these symbolize light and warmth. However, besides the symbolism it conveys, there are many legends about the Lantern Festival as well. Let's look at one version of how the Lantern Festival started.

Lanterns and Tang Yuan to Trick the Jade Emperor

Yuan Xiao is the emperor's servant. She missed her parents terribly and wanted to die than be separated from them. Her friend, the imperial courtier Dong Fang, had heard that the Jade Emperor had commanded the God of Fire to destroy the empire on the 16th day of the New Year. After thinking things over and wanting to help Yuan Xiao, Dong Fang convinced Yuan Xiao to disguise herself as the Fire God. Yuan Xiao did so and convinced the emperor to have all households cook tang yuan sweet dumplings. It turns out that the real Fire God loved tang yuan. When the real Fire God came to destroy the empire; he saw the abundance of tang yuan, so he busied himself eating his favorite dish. While the real Fire God feasted, the people hung out red lanterns and ignited firecrackers. This gave the illusion that the empire was burning, and the Jade Emperor was satisfied.

After averting this disaster, the city celebrated its safety. The emperor decreed that similar celebrations be done every year. This is how the Lantern Festival came to be an annual celebration.

During the festivities, Yuan Xiao wrote her name on a big lantern, hoping that somebody will see it and recognize she was in the imperial court. Her parents, who had come to the city to celebrate, saw her lantern and looked for her. Yuan Xiao was finally reunited with her parents.

Now that we know one version of how the Lantern Festival started, let's find out how people celebrate the Lantern Festival.

Some Customs to Celebrate the Lantern Festival:

• In China, there are festivities or exhibits on the night of the first full moon. People walk to the events holding lanterns shaped like the zodiac animal of the year. This year, tiger lanterns and prosperity lanterns are popular designs, costing from 10-500 yuan (around US $1.50 - 70), depending on size and design.

• People gather together and ate tang yuan, as it symbolizes reunions. Tang yuan or Xuan Yiao are made from glutinous rice balls that have different fillings.

• In Taiwan, people make lanterns and write their prayers on the lanterns. The lanterns are then filled with hot air, and the lanterns float up to the sky, carrying the prayers up towards the deities in heaven.

• Older customs: Instead of tang yuan, people in the rural Chinese communities gathered together outdoors on the night of the first full moon then they shared sweet yams. It is believed that the sweet yams will satisfy the soul, making the human less likely to go to ancestors in the other life.

• Another old custom: People would hang lanterns with riddles written on the lanterns. People would then look through the riddles and tell the lantern owner the solution to riddle. If you got the correct answer, the lantern owner would give a little gift.

About the Author: 

Owner of the site which for over 12 years has been helping Children in the United States learn more about Chinese Culture and Language. You can learn more about Lantern Festivals by visiting today. offers Chinese-English books like Lanterns and Firecrackers and other excellent reading materials