Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Festival)
Yuanxiao Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month, which falls on February 24th in 2013. “Yuan” is the word for the first lunar month, and “xiao” means night. On the 15th day of the first lunar month, the moon gets full. That’s why the festival is called yuanxiao festival. The festival had different names in different dynasties. For instance, during the Tan Dynasty, it’s called Shanyuan Festival while in the late Tan Dynasty it was called Yuanxiao. In the Sun Dynasty the festival’s named Lantern Night and in the Ching Dynasty it was called Lantern Festival.
Taoist Theory of Three Yuan
The custom is originated from Taoist Theory of Three Yuan. According to the theory, the first yuan of the theory is Shangyuan Festival which is on the 15th day of the first lunar month and it’s dedicated to the official of heaven. The second festival, Zhongyuan Festival, which is on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, is dedicated to the official of earth. And the last festival, XiaoYuan Festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the 10th lunar month, is dedicated to the official of human.
The Story of the Lantern Festival
Every custom, every tradition has a story behind. Even though the stories and the heroes of the stories vary, the celebrations don’t. I want to share one of the stories here.
One day, a beautiful bird from heaven flies down to earth and gets hunted by the villagers. Jade Emperor of Heaven gets angry at the villagers for hunting his favourite bird, so, he orders to burn down the village and kill all the people on the 15th day of the lunar month. When the daughter of Jade Emperor hears that, she warns the villagers about what’s going to happen and tells them to find a way to protect themselves. However, the villagers don’t have an idea about how to protect themselves from the Emperor’s anger. Luckily, there comes a man to the village and the villagers ask his opinion about what to do. He recommends that everyone should hang red lanterns around their houses and on the doors, set up campfires on the streets, and make fireworks on the 15th and the 16th day of the lunar month so that the Emperor would think that the village is on fire and everybody is dead.
On the 15th night of the lunar month, Emperor’s soldiers come down to earth and see the village is ablaze and think that it is burned down and everybody is dead, just like what Emperor wanted. So, they go back and tell the Emperor. Jade Emperor thinks everything’s destroyed in the village while the villagers celebrating their survival from the Emperor’s anger.
From that day on, the Chinese celebrate the 15th day of the first lunar month every year by hanging up and carrying red lanterns and setting off fireworks.
The traditional lanterns are made of paper. Mostly the lanterns are red, however, the custom has changed a little bit. You can find lanterns in all colors and designs. The designs are mostly the zodiac animals, historical figures, gods of Taoism and Buddhism. The streets are decorated with lanterns, the kids carry candle lanterns, people set off fireworks.
Another custom of the festival is solving lantern riddles. In this game, the riddle is hidden in a poem or common sayings and these riddles are found on the lanterns. It’s kind of crossword puzzles. Eating rice glue balls is also a custom. The rice glue ball is made of glutinous rice. It can be boiled, fried or steamed. When it’s the full moon on that night, for the first time in a year, Chinese people eat rice glue balls to wish for happiness and peace in life.
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