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Chinese Traditional Festival—Lantern Festival
Feng Yiran, The Epoch Times
3/11/2007

Admiring Colorful Lanterns

As early as 2,000 years ago, in West Han dynasty, people started to celebrate the Lantern Festival. According to Chinese folk traditions, on this night when the white moon hangs high in the sky, people would light thousands of colorful lanterns in celebration. Going outdoors to admire the moon, lighting lanterns and fireworks, admiring the lanterns and guessing riddles, eating glutinous rice dumplings, reuniting with families are traditional ways of celebrating this festival.

According to the book Four Seasons Miscellanies, Lantern Festival is also known as the Shang Yuan Festival following Taoist traditions. The Taos named the 15th day of the 1st Lunar month the Shang Yuan Festival, the 15th day of the 7th Lunar month the Zhong Yuan Festival and 15th day of the 10th Lunar month the Xia Yuan Festival.

The custom of lighting lanterns during Lantern Festival originated from the Han dynasty. During the Tang dynasty, the custom of admiring lanterns flourished. Everywhere in the streets and in the palace, lanterns were hung up. Huge lanterns in the shape of wheels, buildings and trees were even made in celebration of the festival.

Besides admiring colorful lanterns, it is also popular to guess riddles written on lanterns during the festival. This was an activity started in the Song dynasty. In the Southern Song dynasty, whenever it was the Lantern Festival, many people in the capital city Lin'an would make up riddles and guess riddles.

Aroma of the Glutinous Rice Dumplings

It is also a major tradition to eat glutinous rice dumplings on Lantern Festival. Eating these dumplings symbolize the meaning of reunion. According to folklore traditions expert Gao Chengyuan from Tianjin city, glutinous rice dumplings (tangyuan) is also known as "yuanxiao". The original meaning of this phrase was "the night of Shang Yuan Festival". Due to the popular custom of eating glutinous rice dumplings on this night, these dumplings were also called "Yuanxiao". The name "Yuanxiao" was commonly used during the Ming dynasty.

There are many well known tasty glutinous rice dumplings made in different parts of China. All of them attract customers with its unique taste and appearance. In Shanghai, there is the rice dumpling in sweet Chinese wine and crab paste rice dumpling; in Zhejiang province, there is the lotus powder rice dumpling; in Chengdu city, there is the Lai rice dumpling; in Shandong province, there is the sesame, date filling rice dumpling; in Suzhou city, there is the five colored rice dumpling.

It was said that the celebration for Lantern Festival lasted only one day in the Han dynasty. By the Tang dynasty, the celebration has increased to three days whilst in the Song dynasty, it was as long as five days. In the Ming dynasty, lanterns were lit from the eighth to the seventeenth day of the 1st Lunar month up, a full ten days. However during the Qing dynasty, celebrations of the Lantern Festival were shortened to four-five days.

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