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

Beautiful lights for Lantern Festival

What is the Lantern Festival?


Lantern Festival, also named Yuan Xiao Jie or Shang Yuan Jie, 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 celebrating the Lantern Festival, new year's decorations will be packed up, and everything will go back to normal.


When and how did the Lantern Festival originate?


Lantern Festival was 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 Shang Yuan, an honorable deity that is in charge of fortune and blessing. 


Hence, this day is also named Shang Yuan Jie, 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.  


Why the Lantern Festival is 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 Lantern Festival, everyone was allowed to go out at night, participate in different celebrating activities. 

Beautiful Lanterns' Gala, or Denghui in Celebration of Lantern Festival.

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


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


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


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


When is the Lantern Festival?


Lantern Festival is on the 15th of Jan. of 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.


Customs and traditions for celebrating the Lantern Festival


  • Attend gathering of Lantern 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 (Tangyuan).

Rice Ball, Tangyuan

Famous performances of the Lantern Festival

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