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Lantern Festival

Updated: Jul 21, 2017 Print

The Lantern Festival or the Yuanxiao Festival is a Chinese festival celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It marks the final day of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.The ancient Chinese referred to the first lunar month as the "yuan" month and night as "xiao", hence the name "Yuanxiao" Festival. People celebrate the 15th day of the first month because it marks the first full moon of the year as well as the first day of spring.


According to Chinese folk tradition, thousands upon thousands of colorful lanterns should be hung out on the 15th day of the first lunar month. To celebrate the Lantern Festival, people go out at night to admire the full moon, light paper lanterns, set off fireworks, guess lantern riddles, eat yuanxiao and enjoy a family reunion. The Lantern Festival was included in the second batch of state-level intangible cultural heritage in June 2008.

Festive activities

Torch Festival

People in parts of Southwest China celebrate the Torch Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month. They often make torches with reed stems or tree branches and hold them high while marching in groups in the field or dancing on the threshing ground. This custom reached its heyday in the Sui, Tang and Song dynasties, with as many as several tens of thousands people taking part in the festive singing and dancing.

Displaying Festive Lanterns

The 15th day of the first lunar month is called the Lantern Festival because lantern is an essential element of this traditional festival. As the festival approaches, the streets are decorated with bright and colorful lanterns, so that on the night of the festival, the streets are lit by their utmost splendor.

Guessing Lantern Riddles

Guessing lantern riddles is a traditional recreational activity with unique Chinese characteristics. On the 15th day of the first lunar month, it is customary for people to light colorful lanterns,set off fireworks and try to solve the puzzles affixed to the lanterns.

Lion Dance

Lion dance is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture in which performers don a “lion” costume and perform a dance that mimics a lion's movements. Lion dance is often performed at the Lantern Festival and other gatherings or ceremonies to entertain crowds. Its history goes back over 1,000 years.

Land Boat Dance

Land boat dance, as its name suggests, is a form of dance in which performers, girls in most cases, mimic the action of rowing boats on land. A land boat usually consists of two thin ieces of wood bound with bamboo and covered with colorful cloth. The performer ties the boat around her waist to give the impression that he or she is sitting in the boat, and then begins to sing and dance with a paddle in each hand.

Sacrifice to Doors and Gates

There were Seven Sacrifices in ancient China, of which these were two. To perform the ritual, a person places a poplar branch above the door of his home, sticks a pair of chopsticks in a bowl of bean congee, or directly places wine and meat in front of his door. 

Festive food

The yuanxiao eaten in North China and tangyuan in the South during the Lantern Festival are symbols as well as a good wish of family reunion. The main ingredients of yuanxiao and tangyuan are both glutinous rice which is neutral in nature, sweet in taste and effective in remedying bodily deficiencies. Glutinous rice can regulate blood, invigorate the spleen, increase the appetite, replenish vital energy, stop diarrhea, warm zhongjiao (the upper abdomen), promote the production of body fluid and alleviate dryness according to traditional Chinese medical science. Tangyuan fillings come in many varieties which can be sweet, salty, and contain meat or vegetables, while most yuanxiao fillings are sweet with fruits and nuts.

Enjoying yuanxiao tea is a custom in Shaanxi and some other places. Yuanxiao tea is hot noodle soup that contains all sorts of vegetables and fruits, much like the "yuanxiao congee" eaten in ancient times. Besides being rich in dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins, this tea is not as greasy as regular yuanxiao, and is a good way of soothing heartburn and indigestion caused by eating too much meat during the holiday.

Food customs during the Lantern Festival vary from place to place. People living on the plains eat jiaozi on the 15th day of the first lunar month and yuanxiao the next day, whereas people living in mountainous regions enjoy youcha (oil tea) on the 15th day of the first lunar month and jiaozi the next day. Youcha is a variety of seasoned flour mush made by stir-frying, or sometimes pan-frying, the flour with animal fat, typically beef fat.

Jiaozi is one of the most important foods eaten during the Chinese New Year, and in Northern China it is eaten year-round. People from the province of Henan have the tradition of eating jiaozi on the 15th day of the first lunar month and yuanxiao the next day. Jiaozi is a very popular folk food with a long history. According to an old saying, there is no food tastier than jiaozi”.


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