The Complete Guide to the Chinese Lantern Festival 🏮
What is the Chinese Lantern Festival | All Is Revealed
Today we answer all your questions about the Chinese Lantern Festival including when is it, why does it happen and the origins of it.
Let’s get straight to it.
Chinese Lantern Festival || When is it?
Chinese Lantern Festival || Why is it called like this?
Chinese Lantern Festival || What are the origins of this festival?
Chinese Lantern Festival || Lion Dance vs Dragon Dance
Chinese Lantern Festival || Chinese Lantern Festival Through History
Chinese Lantern Festival || Traditional Foods
Chinese Lantern Festival || Making Your Own Lanterns
When is Chinese Lantern Festival?
Chinese Lantern Festival: the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar is 元宵节 (Yuánxiāo Jié) “the Lantern Festival” literally the “night of the first-month Festival” which is also is the last day of 春节 the Spring Festival celebrations.
Typically this falls in February or early March of the Gregorian calendar.
When is the Lantern Festival?
5 February 2023
24 February 2024
12 February 2025
Traditionally it confirms the last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
DID YOU KNOW || 元宵节 yuánxiāo is not the only way to say “lantern festival” in Chinese.
上元节 (shàng yuán jié) is, in fact, another common name for this festival and it literally means “The First Night”, as you can see, no lanterns are mentioned in Chinese so…
Why is it Called the Chinese Lantern Festival?
This Chinese festival is known in English as the Lantern Festival because watching lanterns 灯笼 (dēnglóng) in different shapes and sizes is one of the main attractions of this special day.
In Chinese 灯 means light – 笼 means cover(ing)…
So lantern literally translates to light covering.
What is the Origin of the Chinese Lantern Festival?
There are different versions of the legend behind it, but this is one of the most popular ones:
In ancient times a holy crane flew from heaven to Earth, but when it landed the holy creature got lost and killed by some villagers that thought it was a fierce beast.
The Jade Emperor was extremely angry and upset when he heard that his favourite crane was killed by a human.
He ordered his troops to go into the human world to destroy the whole village by fire on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.
However, when the Jade Emperor’s daughter, a kind and graceful goddess, warned the villagers about the bad news, all of them fell into despair.
An old and wise man was the only exception.
He instructed the villagers to hang red lanterns around their houses and to set off fireworks and firecrackers to simulate a vast fire.
When the army of the Jade Emperor came to destroy the village, they saw the lights, the smog and heard the noise of the explosions.
They thought that the village was already set on fire and so they left.
Therefore, to celebrate how they survived from this crisis, people light lanterns 灯笼 (dēnglóng) and set off fireworks 鞭炮 (biānpào) on that day every year.
Other popular traditions of the Lantern Festival are the Lion Dance and the Dragon Dance.
Discovering China | The Dragon Boat Festival
On the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, Chinese people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 (Duānwǔ jié).
What is the Difference Between the Lion Dance and the Dragon Dance?
The Lion Dance 舞狮 (wǔ shī) is performed by two people wearing a Lion costume, they operate in perfect coordination to give the illusion of a moving lion.
The Dragon Dance 舞龙 (wǔ lóng) is performed by more people wearing a long, all dancing under a huge dragon costume, held by wooden poles.
Reading about it is definitely not the same as actually seeing it, we know!
That’s why we found a very interesting video from YouTuber Stupid in China, where he joined a Lion & Dragon Chinese dance group. Check it out below 👇
Want to discover your Chinese Zodiac? Check it out!
The Chinese Lantern Festival Through History
Legends are always at the core of ancient traditions, but the true origins of customs is a knowledge that can get lost through time.
So, how was the Lantern Festival really celebrated through the Dynasties?Source
For starters, in 25-220 AD during the Han Dynasty, buddhist monks would light up lanterns on the 15th day of the lunar year to honour Buddha.
The Emperor Li Zhuang did the same, ordering his subjects in the palace to light up lanterns in honour of Buddha each year.
Then, during the Tang Dynasty Tang (618-907 AD), people would craft lanterns to celebrate the peace and power of China as a country, whilst celebrating Lantern Festival.
Later on, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang from the Ming Dynast (1368-1644 AD) ordered thousands of lanterns to be placed upon the Qinhuai river.
Emperor Yongle, created a lantern fair outside of the Hua gate, in Beijing.
Finally, nowadays, the Lantern Festival is celebrated each year to spread peace and forgiveness. The day also symbolises the end of the Chinese New Year festivities.
What’s the Traditional Food Eaten on the Chinese Lantern Festival?
During the Lantern Festival, Chinese people gather together and eat round, glutinous rice balls filled with sweet red bean paste, sesame paste, or peanut butter.
These are respectively called 元宵 (yuánxiāo) in the North and 汤圆 (tāngyuán) in the South.
As the first full moon of the year shines in the sky, many young Chinese will find the Lantern Festival the perfect time for being alone with their crush.
For this reason 元宵节 (Yuánxiāo Jié) is also considered the original Chinese Valentine’s Day.
How to Make Your Own Lanterns at Home?
Even though nowadays it is very easy to buy ready-to-go lanterns in any supermarket, they were originally crafted at home, from strong and easy to find materials in China.
The structure of the lantern was made from bamboo, wood, rattan or wire. Pieces of silk would then be put together to make the shape of the lantern.
Lanterns were usually decorated by calligraphy, paintings, paper cuts or embroidery.
Historically, lanterns were red or golden, because they symbolise togetherness, happiness and luck.Source
In the past, we would put a candle inside the lanterns, but today we can easily find more modern ones, with electric lighting.
If you’d like to make some Chinese lanterns at home for the holidays, you can easily make some !
Instead of writing down a step-by-step tutorial, we are going to share some very easy and useful tutorials from YouTube.
Following is our selection of video tutorials to create your Chinese lanterns yourself and decorate your house for the Chinese New Year Holidays.
TUTORIAL #1 || Folding and cutting, super easy!
TUTORIAL #2 || Create lanterns from unused traditional red envelops
TUTORIAL #3 || Create lanterns with paper plates
Let us know in the comments if you decorated your house with lanterns this year! 🏮
Chinese Lantern Festival FAQ’s
What date is Chinese Lantern Festival 2023?
The Chinese Lantern Festival in 2023 is the 5th February.
What date is Chinese Lantern Festival 2024?
The Chinese Lantern Festival in 2024 will fall on the 24th February.
How do you say Lantern Festival in Chinese?
Lantern Festival in Chinese is 元宵节 yuánxiāo, however there is another way to say it:
上元节 (shàng yuán jié) is, in fact, another common name for this festival and it literally means “The First Night”, as you can see, no lanterns are mentioned in Chinese.
When is the Lantern Festival?
The Chinese Lantern Festival is the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar which normally falls early February time.
What is eaten for the Chinese Lantern Festival?
The Chinese typically eat small glutinous rice balls filled with fruits and/or nuts which are known as Yuan Xiao or Tang Yuan.
What do lanterns symbolise in China?
Chinese people release lanterns into the sky for the festival celebrations. These lanterns symbolise wishes for a bright future.
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