The Lantern Festival (also known as Yuan Xiao Festival or Spring Lantern Festival), happens at the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. It takes place on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This celebration usually takes place between the months of February and March (according to the Gregorian calendar), depending on the date that Chinese New Year begins.
The Lantern Festival has nearly 2,000 years of history and was created by the Emperor Han Mingdi, a great supporter of Buddhism. The festival is very important for the Chinese because on its day, people can see the first full moon night of the Chinese calendar. It also marks the return of spring and symbolizing the reunion of families.
After the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival is the second festival with a lot of meaning for the Chinese. On the night it is celebrated, a large number of lanterns illuminate the streets. It is also customary for people to hang lanterns in their homes and stores to attract good energies for the coming year.
In addition to the lanterns that decorate homes and businesses, large lantern fairs also take place annually in the country. Their tradition is even more popular in the East of the country. The oldest and largest of the festivals is the Qinhuai International Lantern Festival in Nanjing. Every year, thousands of people go to the Confucius Temple in Nanjing to see the countless lanterns.
At the beginning of the Festival, the lanterns were made from paper, silk and glass. Nowadays, they are even more crafted, and on the day of the festival, they become works of art in different colors and shapes. Currently, the red balloon remains the most used where the festival is celebrated, symbolizing Chinese culture and its main celebrations around the world.
In addition to the visual aspect, the lanterns carry meanings in themselves. They usually symbolize joy, happiness and luck. Others mean the "rebirth" of the self, leaving the past behind to open paths for the year ahead. White lanterns, unlike what is believed in the West, represent death in families.
During the festival, there are typical foods that are quite popular, such as Tangyuan (also known as Yuan Xiao). Tangyuans are sticky rice balls usually filled with peanut butter, sweet red beans or sesame paste. Its shape and that of the bowls in which it is served are round, to symbolize family unity. The Chinese believe that eating this food brings good luck and happiness in the coming year. These balls are fried or boiled before serving.
The Chinese believe that the day of the Lantern Festival is a good day for reconciliation and socializing with family members and friends. Two other aspects of the festival are the Lion and Dragon dances. These dances are very popular and happens in many different places of China.
In the dragon dance, huge puppets and floats are created to liven up the festivities. The dragons dance to the sound of drums, and are very lively. The movements performed by the dancers with the dragons resemble the movements of this mythological animal, showing all its dignity and power. For the Chinese, these are the symbols that the dragon carries. The dragon is the most popular animal in China and can be found everywhere.
The Lion dance is also popular for Chinese culture. Its historical significance is very symbolic. There are two versions of it, the northern and the southern. The northerner has a tendency to entertain. The southerner’s goal is to cleanse all evil and bring happiness and luck to the people.