Lantern Festival — Traditional Chinese Valentine's Day and The End of Spring Festival Celebration

 

What Is the Lantern Festival?

 

Lantern Festival, also named Shangyuan Festival or Yuanxiao Festival, is on the 15th of January in the Traditional Chinese Calendar, the first full moon of a new year. 

 

It is also the end of the Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) celebration. 

 

After all the celebration activities, new year's decorations will be packed up, and everything will go back to normal.

Chinese Lanterns
Hanging Lanterns
Lanterns in Part of Painting "Ming Xianzong Yuanxiao Xingle Tu" About Celebrations of Lantern Festival of Chenghua Emperor

Painting "Ming Xianzong Yuanxiao Xingle Tu" About Chenghua Emperor (1447 — 1487) Celebrating Lantern Festival in Imperial Forbidden City, by Court Artist of the Ming Dynasty — National Museum of China

 

When and How Did the Lantern Festival Originate?

 

Lantern Festival originated in the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD), but there are several versions concerning the exact starting story.

 

Liu Heng (202 BC — 157 BC), the Emperor Wen of Han set the festival to memorize that they successfully eliminated a rebellious scheme that was initiated by the family of Empress Lv (first queen of the Han Dynasty, the wife of Emperor Liu Bang).

 

Han's loyal generals and officials achieved victory on the 15th of Jan., hence, Emperor Wen of Han made this a festival that is celebrated by everyone, to honor peace and loyalty. 

Imperial Jade Seal of Queen Lv Zhi

Imperial Jade Seal of Empress Lv — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Liu Che (156 BC — 87 BC) Emperor Wu of Han started to worship Tai Yi Shen, the most honorable, the paramount deity of heaven during that period, on the first full moon of the new year. 

 

Emperor Liu Che's worship ceremony was quite grand. It started from dusk till the next morning, when the palace was illuminated by countless lights, and sometimes even meteors.  

 

Therefore, this day became an important festival of beautiful lanterns and grand worship ceremonies.

Tai Yi Shen and other Immortals in Ancient Chinese Culture

Tai Yi Shen and other Immortals in Ancient Chinese Culture

In Taoism Religion, the first full moon night is the birthday of Shangyuan, an honorable deity that is in charge of fortune and blessing. 

 

Hence, this day is also named Shangyuan Festival, when people would light countless lanterns to celebrate the birthday of Deity Shang Yuan and to pray for good luck. 

 

Civilians used to hold torches at night, expel monsters and pests on their farmlands, and protect their crops.

 

Gradually, they made the 15th of January a festival of torches and lights to get together at night.  

Different Types of Beautiful Lanterns of the Song Dynasty, in Painting "Guandeng Tu" By Artist Li Song

Different Types of Beautiful Lanterns of the Song Dynasty, in Painting "Guandeng Tu" By Artist Li Song (about 1166 — 1243) — Taipei Palace Museum

 

Why Is Lantern Festival Traditional Chinese Valentine's Day?

 

In ancient Chinese history, except in the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279), curfew had been implemented strictly for safety reasons. 

 

At night, city walls and all shops would be closed, and all people were not allowed to go out on the street, except for patrollers and those in an emergency. 

 

But at the Shangyuan Festival, everyone was allowed to go out at night, and participate in different celebrating activities. 

Beautiful Lanterns' Gala or Denghui

Especially for young, unmarried people that could not go out and date freely as today, the festival is an excellent opportunity to see and meet others.

 

Even for married couples, going out at night is romantic and sweet.

 

The full moon, fancy lanterns, beautiful firecrackers, and wonderful performances, all formed a splendid night. 

 

Therefore, the Lantern Festival has been considered Chinese Valentine's Day.

 

When Is the Lantern Festival?

 

Lantern Festival is on the 15th of January in the Traditional Chinese Calendar, but its preparation and celebration time varied from one day to ten days throughout history. 

 

Today, the lanterns usually last three to five days in China.

Hanging Lanterns in the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace of Ming and Qing Dynasties

Hanging Lanterns in the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace of Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 — 1912), Photo From Official Website of Palace Museum. 

 

Customs and Traditions

 

  • Attend gatherings of the festival;

  • Guess Lantern Riddles;

Lantern Riddles
  • Watch beautiful Firecrackers;

  • Send exquisite lanterns to newly married brides (usually from parents or close relatives), to pray for her well-being and fortunate;

  • Eat Glutinous Rice Ball (Yuanxiao and Tangyuan).

Rice Ball, Tangyuan
 

Famous Performances

Performances during the Lantern Festival are mostly the same as those in the Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival), such as Dragon and Lion Dances.


Click to Read More Celebration Performances of Chinese New Year