Happy New Year of the Tiger!
How has your Chinese New Year holiday been? I hope you had a great fun experiencing Chinese culture to the full! Today is Lantern Festival 元宵节 (Yuánxiāo Jié). It lies on the 15th day of the new lunar year, which is Feb 15th this year. 元宵节 marks the final day of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.
In this article, I would love to share some interesting knowledge of 元宵节 with you.
What does 元宵 mean exactly?
Your first impression of 元宵 might be the white, round and sweet rice balls that you tried in a Chinese restaurant
Yes! Chinese Northerners call this Lantern Festival specialty 元宵. Actually 元宵 has another meaning.
In Chinese, 元 can mean "first" and 宵 usually refers to "night". So 元宵 literally means the first night that we can see the full moon in the lunar new year. It symbolizes the arrival of spring and the end of the Chinese New Year celebration.
How was 元宵节 originated?
About how 元宵节 was originated, there are many different stories since ancient times. Here I would like to share two famous ones with you.
The first story indicates that 元宵节 is somehow related to Buddhism.
Ruling the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Emperor Hanmingdi was a loyal Buddhist believer. He heard that some monks light up lanterns in their temples to conquer darkness and show respect to Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month. He decided to do the same. Therefore, he stipulate that all the temples and houses should light up lanterns on that evening. This Buddhist custom gradually became a folk custom in China and a permanent festival for all the Chinese people.
The second story is based on a Chinese mythology.
The Jade Emperor's favorite crane was killed by villagers and he was furious. Then he decided to burn the village down on the 15th day of the lunar year. The Jade Emperor's daughter can't tolerate her dad's behavior, so she warned the villagers in advance. A wise man advised the villagers to hang lots of red lanterns outside to give the Jade Emperor the impression that the village was already on fire. The emperor was fooled by the lanterns and the village survived successfully. This tradition of hanging red lanterns on the 15th day of the lunar year was kept as a tradition since then.
How do Chinese celebrate 元宵节？
So what do Chinese people do to celebrate 元宵节? Let's check out the customs one by one!
1. Appreciate beautiful lanterns
You will be able to see many beautiful lanterns during the festival, easpecially if you go to lantern shows. Apart from creating the warm festive atmosphere, Chinese people like lanterns bacause of its good implication. In Chinese, "灯/dēng/lantern" sounds like "丁/dīng/number of people". So lighting up lanterns symbolizes adding more people into the family. Also, lanterns represent brighteness and happiness in Chinese culture. Generally, all the good wishes are in this one little lantern.
2. Solve interesting lantern riddles
During 元宵节, ancient Chinese people like to write riddles on the red paper and paste them on colorful lanterns for people to solve.
Since solving riddles are fun and for enlightening wisdom, it has gradually become an irreplaceable custom of 元宵节.
Look at the lantern riddle above, "上上下下，不上不下"，can you guess what's the character it describes?
3. Enjoy watching lion dances
Lion dance is commonly performed during 元宵节 as Chinese people believe that it can bring them good luck and fortune. It's very similar to a dragon dance but lion dance is normally operated by only two dancers instead of a bunch of people, one of whom manipulates the head while the other is controlling the tail of the lion. The fundamental movements in lion dance can be found in Chinese martial arts, and it is commonly performed to a vigorous drum beat.
Eating 元宵 is another important tradition. 元宵 is made of glutinous rice. The stuffing includes bean paste, black sesame, hawthorn paste, various kinds of fruit and so on. It can be boiled, deep fried or steamed to enjoy.
As the most popular Chinese dessert for this season, 元宵 has its special meaning to Chinese people too. Its round shape implies unity and completeness. Its sweet taste symbolizes happiness and harmony.
元宵's another version 汤圆/tāngyuán sounds like 团圆/tuányuán, which means reunion in Chinese. It therefore perfectly fits the Lantern Fetsival's spirit - family reunion.
元宵/yuánxiāo VS 汤圆/tāngyuán
You might be confused that some people call the rice ball 元宵and some call that 汤圆. What is the difference between them?
Well, basically we can distinguish them by where they are made. If it's made in North China, it's 元宵. If it's made in South China, it's 汤圆. North China 元宵 is rolled in a basket while South China 汤圆 is kneaded by hand. Since the way of making this dessert is different, the looks of them are different too. The surface of 元宵 is relatively dry and soft, while 汤圆 is usually smooth and glutinous
Every year on Lantern Festival, there is a bustle on Chinese internet comparing 汤圆 and 元宵, as this is one of issues about North - South rivlalry in China. Have you tried both of them? Which one do you prefer? 元宵 or 汤圆?
Another Chinese Valentine's Day?
Guess what! 元宵节 was actually a romantic Valentine's Day for ancient Chinese people.
As we know, in ancient China, women usually weren't allowed to go out freely. In addition, there was a curfew system to prevent criminal activity during night time, such as gambling and robbery. No one was allowed to travel from 7pm to 5am, but on the night of 元宵节, everyone could be on street freely.
By lighting up lanterns, solving lantern riddles, visiting marketplace, women were free to mingle with men and find their love of life on this very night. Just imagine, looking into the eyes of your sweetheart while standing underneath countless starry lanterns, how romantic is that! Don't you agree that 元宵节 should be the actual Chinese Valentine's Day?
Lots of romantic ancient poems were written on this night. Here I would love to share one of the most famous poems with you:宝马雕车香满路。凤箫声动，玉壶光转，一夜鱼龙舞。
蛾儿雪柳黄金缕。笑语盈盈暗香去。The Lantern Festival Night-
to the tune of Green Jade Table
【A.D. 1140 - 1207】Xin Qiji
One night's east wind adorns a thousandtrees with flowers,
And blows down stars in showers.
Fine steeds and carved cabs spread fragrance en route.
Music vibrates from the flute,
The moon sheds its full light,
While fish and dragon lanterns dance all night.
In gold-thread dress, with moth or willow ornaments,
Giggling, she melts into the throng with trails of scents.
But in the crowd once and again,
look for her in vain.
When all at once I turn my head,
I find her there where lantern light is dimly shed.
(Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
Do you understand more about the 元宵节 - Lantern Festival now？We wish you can enjoy a warm reunion with your beloved ones tonight!
Check out Silk Mandarin's Lantern Festival Cruise Banquet!元宵节快乐！Yuánxiāo Jié Kuàilè！
(All the pictures are from the Internet)