Chinese New Year traditions: the Lantern Festival

photo by Augapfel

Of all the countless Chinese holidays, none is better know or more fun for Chinese and foreigners alike than the Chinese New Year. If in the western parts of the world the New Year is celebrated in the middle of winter, the Chinese New Year seems to take place at a more fitting time – the beginning of Spring, a time of renewal. The celebration of the New Year starts on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar, and ends 15 days later, with the resplendent Lantern Festival. If you’re in China during the New Year, you can’t help but be caught up in the enthusiasm and joy of life that surfaces during the Lantern Festival. Here is some interesting information about the best of the Chinese New Year traditions: the Lantern Festival.


photo by Jodie Wilson

The Lantern Festival started out as a celebration of love, friendship and balance between people, animals and nature, and many consider it today to be the equivalent of Valentine’s Day. There are many legends referring to the history of the Lantern Festival, but it was during the Han Dynasty that the festival came to special prominence. In the past, the festival was a time for young people to go out in the streets under the supervision of their chaperones, and try to find love. Lanterns have been lit during the festival for over 2000 years, and although today people light them only for one night, in the Middle Ages lanterns would burn for days on end.

Lantern Festival Traditions

Most festivals have some kind of traditional food associated with it, and in the case of the Lantern Festival, it is glutinous rice balls, yuanxiao, whose round shape symbolizes the bond between family members. The tradition of eating yuanxiao is supposedly 800 years old, and it has lasted so long not only because the yuanxiao with filling are quite delicious, but also because they bring good luck and a happy life. A very important part of the festival is guessing lantern riddles. When people light lanterns, they usually also write a riddle on them. If someone guesses the answer, then the owner of the lantern will reward them with a gift. On the day before the festival, various dances are performed: the dragon lantern dance, the lion dance, the land boat dance, the yangge dance or dancing on stilts.

Best destinations for the Lantern Festival

photo by Augapfel

Probably the best places to experience Chinese New Year traditions, the Lantern Festival and other celebrations are big cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where there are many locations for lantern displays, lantern launches, dances and parades. Small cities and villages have a more intimate atmosphere, and most people gather in main square or park to launch lanterns, eat dumplings and chat with each other.

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