Chinese Customs & Festivals

Lanterns

Yuanxiao Festival

Yuanxiao or "Lantern Festival", celebrated on the 15th Day of the 1st Lunar Month, marks the end of the Spring Festival. The Chinese people sometimes call it the Yuanxiao Festival because they like to eat small round dumplings of sticky rice containing sweet fillings. (Literally "yuan" means "round one"; xiao means "overnight".)

Some people prefer to call it the "Feast of Lanterns" because from the 11th century of the Song Dynasty, it was a custom to hang various beautiful lanterns on the 15th of the 1st Lunar months. Along the main streets in many towns and cities, different kinds of Chinese lanterns were hung. People from rural areas traveled to the busy towns or cities to visit at this time.

This festival scene at night has been vividly described in many operas and novels. In the Chinese classical novel Water Margin, the heroes used this festival as an opportunity to boldly and courageously conquer the so-called "World Renowned City" Damingfu in Shandong Province, where they killed the officials and rescued their friends from prison. This old custom of hanging lanterns was almost forgotten just prior to liberation because of the social poverty and unsettled life of the people. Nowadays in Beijing, gauze lanterns are hung in shops, some of them having interesting, historical pictures painted on them.

Children and young people like to play with lanterns. They can be bought in the streets during the Spring Festival. They go out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns. This festival officially ends the Chinese New Year celebrations.

Revised June 13, 2011