Red lanterns illuminate a wind and rain bridge in Xuan'en County of Enshi, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 7, 2017. Colored lanterns can be seen across the country to greet the upcoming Lantern Festival, which falls on Feb. 11 ,this year. (Xinhua/Song Wen)
BEIJING, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Following the Spring Festival, which heralds the arrival of the new lunar year, the Lantern Festival, which falls on Feb. 11 this year, is considered to be one of the country's most important holidays.
The Chinese lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, with the full moon falling on the 15th day of each month. Since the Lantern Festival is held to mark the first full moon of the new lunar year, Chinese celebrate it by hanging colorful lanterns, playing games and gathering with friends to eat sweetened rice dumplings.
Tourists visit the 38th Baotu Spring Lantern Festival to celebrate Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, in Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, Jan. 30, 2017. (Xinhua/Zhu Zheng)
LANTERN FESTIVAL LEGENDS
There are many different myths and stories about the origin of the festival, most of which can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).
It is said that Buddhism first became popular during the Han Dynasty, with the Ming Emperor (28 AD - 75 AD) promoting the spread of Buddhism throughout China. After learning that Buddhist monks would light lanterns to worship Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the emperor decided to follow suit, ordering all citizens to light lanterns in a similar fashion.
Another story mentions a crane belonging to the Jade Emperor (the supreme deity of Taoism) who was mistakenly killed by villagers who were trying to protect their livestock from wild beasts. Angered by the crane's death, the Jade Emperor decided to burn the villagers' homes on the 15th night of the first lunar month.
The daughter of the Jade Emperor, feeling sympathetic for the villagers, came to warn them of the emperor's wrath. The villagers decided to light red lanterns and set off fireworks to confuse the emperor's army, who believed the village was already on fire and returned to heaven, sparing the villagers from certain doom.
Huang Jingwen, a centenarian, shows the traditional snack Yuanxiao she made with staff members of local community in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, Feb. 11, 2014. (Xinhua/Du Yu)
Many people celebrate the festival by eating "yuanxiao," a type of sweetened dumpling made of glutinous rice flour and stuffed with a variety of fillings, including meat, nuts, fruit or sugar.
In the past, many people made their own yuanxiao, while purchasing them in supermarkets has become more popular over the years. The snack can be eaten boiled, fried or steamed, just like regular dumplings.
Yuanxiao are also known as "tangyuan" in Chinese, a word that is pronounced nearly the same as "tuanyuan," which means "reunion" in Chinese, making the food a symbol of the family reunions that are common to Chinese holidays.
Troupers perform during a drum contest in Zhengding, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 6, 2017. A total of 12 drum teams from Shijiazhuang City participated in contest here on Monday to greet the upcoming Lantern Festival. (Xinhua/Wang Xiao)
Hanging lanterns and shooting off fireworks remain the most popular forms of entertainment during the festival, although other ways to celebrate the holiday have become more popular over the years.
The Chinese character for lamp ("deng") contains the characters "huo" (fire) and "ding" (child), leading many to believe that lighting multiple lanterns will bring families more children. Families living in ancient times would often light many lanterns for this purpose.
Some of the lanterns decorated with puzzles on their outside surfaces. Children are especially fond of solving the puzzles, as they are often rewarded with gifts for doing so.
The festival is also celebrated through a variety of performance arts, including the "dragon lantern dance," the "lion dance" and stilt-walking. Enditem