The Chinese Lantern Festival is being celebrated today - here’s what it signifies

Friday, 26th February 2021, 10:20 am
Updated Friday, 26th February 2021, 10:20 am

The Lantern Festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year holiday.

Google is commemorating the celebration, known as the Yuan Xiao, with a Doodle illustration depicting an ox and a rat lighting lanterns.

It represents the Chinese calendar, which is marked by one of 12 animal signs. While last year was the Year of the Rat, 2021 is the Year of the Ox.

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So, what is the Lantern Festival, what are its origins - and how is it usually celebrated?

Here is everything you need to know.

What is the Lantern Festival?

Chinese New Year celebrations can last for up to 16 days, with seven days being a public holiday.

The festivities reach a climax with the Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month.

In 2021, it is celebrated on 26 February.

Over the years, the festival has developed multiple meanings.

It celebrates family reunions, socialising and freedom, while also featuring ancient spiritual traditions.

Usually, families reunite on New Year’s Eve and visit in-laws on the 2nd day of the new year.

Stores reopen on the 5th day, and the celebrations gradually die down.

But on the 15th day of the new year, the Lantern Festival, everyone takes to the streets to celebrate and light lanterns.

Some regard the festival as the “true” Chinese Valentine’s Day, rather than the traditional day of Qixi.

That’s because, in Ancient China, when women often weren’t allowed out of the house, on the Lantern Festival they were able to celebrate freely, joining in traditions and interacting romantically with men.

Despite its importance, the Lantern Festival isn’t a national holiday, so there are no days off for celebrations.

What are the origins of the festival?

It is thought that the Lantern Festival started more than 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty.

At that time, Buddhism was popular within China.

Emperor Ming, hearing that monks would light candles for the Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month, ordered the imperial palace and temples to light candles and the citizens to hang lanterns.

Lighting lanterns continued as a tradition for Chinese people throughout the dynasties which followed.

The celebrations eventually developed into the Lantern Festival recognised today.

What is the lantern lighting tradition?

Lanterns have become the symbol of the festival.

In modern times, red lanterns can be seen hanging in the street, within houses and in stores.

They often depict traditional Chinese folklore and riddles.

Throughout history, countless variations of lanterns have been created, from small, palm-sized globes to huge parade floats.

A famous variation is the Kongming lantern, which represents hope, success and happiness.

Traditionally, lanterns would be gifted to newlyweds or couples without children to pass on blessings.

Pregnant women would also receive a pair of small lanterns to wish health and safety for both mother and child.

In some regions, lanterns are burned to determine the gender of a future child from the shape of the ashes.

Are there other traditions?

There are myriad traditions and activities that take place during the Lantern Festival, from lighting lanterns to moon gazing and lion dances to eating rice balls.

Each place has its own traditions.

In the city of Fengyang, swings play a major role, while one of the sights in Hebei province is the jǐng xíng lā huā performances, where people hold fans and parasols and dance to the beat of drums.

The trademark food of the celebration is called yuan xiao - the same name as the festival itself.

It is one of many Chinese New Year desserts in the form of rice dumplings, with sweet fillings made of syrup, red bean paste and black sesame paste.

They can be steamed or fried but are traditionally boiled and served in hot water during the festival.