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Lantern Festival: A Brief Overview

http://www.chinese.cn 13:51, March 3, 2010 Xinhua

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A boy shows his handmade Yuanxiao
A boy shows his handmade Yuanxiao, dumpling made of glutinous rice flour with sweetened stuffing, in an orphanage in Bengbu, central China's Anhui Province.

 

The first full moon of every lunar new year falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. This day is also known as the Lantern Festival in China. It marks the official end to the two-week Spring Festival celebration.

As the name "Lantern Festival" suggests, lanterns play a leading role in the celebration. As the first full moon of the new year rises, people come out to enjoy the spectacle of thousands of colorful lanterns, blazing in the night.

These glowing works of art cover a diverse range of themes, from nature to folklore, from history to ancient wisdom. The customs of lighting a lantern began in the Han Dynasty, some two thousand years ago. Later, in the Tang Dynasty, folk rituals were represented in more jovial and widespread forms, with lanterns hanging from imperial palaces to pedestrian districts. It made for a grand scene which inspired lasting pieces of poetry.

The Song Dynasty lengthened the celebration to five days, while the Ming Dynasty, tacked on another five days to create the longest lantern festival in Chinese history. In the Qing Dynasty, pyrotechnic shows accompanied the lantern displays.

Lantern Festival is also about solving riddles. In the Song Dynasty, local people wrote riddles onto lanterns for visitors to guess for fun. These were later handed down as a kind of brain teaser, enjoyed by people from all walks of society.

During Lantern Festival, Chinese families also gather for a huge meal of yuanxiao, the round sticky dumplings with sweet fillings. The round shape is meant to evoke the spirit of family unity and harmony. The word "Yuan" or "Roundness" suggests the attainment of the Five kinds of happiness: Long Life, Wealth, Peace, Virtue and Honor.

In some places, local women are encouraged to walk together or along a section of a city's wall to dispel sickness on the day of the Lantern Festival.

In ancient feudal society where young Chinese women were restricted from outdoor activities, the Lantern Festival was an occasion for them to walk around and meet members of the opposite sex, adding a romantic flavor to the fanfare.

The Lantern Festival marks the grand finale of the 15-day celebration of the Spring Festival. After the break, it's time for a fresh start, to make peace, to forgive old grievances, and to set the tone for the coming year.

And this is the role of the lanterns -- to illuminate a clear path, to brighten future endeavors.