Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival of 2020 falls on February 8. People will eat Yuanxiao (glutinous rice dumplings), watch lanterns, guess lantern riddles… There is no holiday for this traditional festival.
Year Date of Lantern
2019 February 19
2020 February 8
2021 February 26
2022 February 15
2023 February 5
2024 February 24

Falling on the 15th day of the first lunar month, Lantern Festival is the first significant feast after Chinese New Year, so called because the most important activity during the night of the event is watching various wonderful Chinese lanterns. And because every household eats yuanxiao (a rice ball stuffed with different fillings) on that day, it is called Yuan Xiao Festival. For its rich and colorful activities, it is regarded as the most recreational among all the Chinese festivals and a day for appreciating the bright full moon, and family reunion.


Customs and Activities

With a history of over 2,000 years, various traditional customs and activities are held during Lantern Festival that appeal to people of different ages, including watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles, performing folk dances, and eating yuanxiao.

Lanterns can be seen everywhere on the Lantern Festival
Colorful Lanterns sold on the Street
 More Lantern Festival Pictures

 Watching Lanterns

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), Buddhism flourished in China. So in order to popularize Buddhism, one of the emperors gave an order to light lanterns in the imperial palace to worship and show respect for Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month. During the Tang (618 - 907), Song (960 - 1279), Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) dynasties, lighting lanterns became a tradition for Chinese people.

Today, when the festival comes, red lanterns can be seen in the street, in each house, and store. In the parks, lanterns of various shapes and types attract countless visitors. Visitors marvel that various lanterns so vividly demonstrate traditional Chinese folklore.

 Guessing Lantern Riddles

Beginning from the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), guessing riddles is regarded as an indispensable part of the Lantern Festival. People write all kinds of riddles on pieces of paper, and paste them on colorful lanterns to let visitors guess. If one has an answer to a riddle, he can pull the paper to let organizers verify the answer. Gifts are presented to the people who get the right answers.

Because this intellectual activity is exciting, people from all walks of life enjoy it.

Xi'an City Wall Lantern Show
Xi'an City Wall Lantern Show
Lantern Fair, Xi'an
Lantern Fair held on Xi'an City Wall

 Folk Dances: Lion Dance, and Walking on Stilts

Derived from the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), the lion dance is an excellent traditional art that adds infinite fun to any celebration including the Lantern Festival. Two performing types have formed during its long development. In north China, the lion dance focuses on skills, and in the south the lion dance pays more attention to the animal resemblance. One actor manipulates a small lion made of quilts resembling a real one, and with two persons acting like a big lion, one manages the head part and the other, the rest. Under the guidance of a director, the lions sometimes jump, leap, and do difficult acts such as walking on stilts.

Because the acting is always amusing, spectators enjoy it very much. According to ancient custom, the lion is a symbol of boldness and strength that can protect people, so by performing the lion dance, everyone prays for an auspicious and happy life.

Lion Dance, an activity of Lantern Festival
Lion Dance
Walking on Stilts
Walking on Stilts

Walking on stilts, another folk art, traces its origins to the Spring and Autumn period (770BC - 476BC). Performers not only walk on stilts by binding them to their feet, but also do some breathtakingly difficult moves. As actors impersonate different characters like monks, clowns, and fishermen and perform vivid and humorous acts, the art amuses many people.

 Eating Yuanxiao

Yuanxiao, special food for Chinese Lantern Festival
Yuanxiao, the special food 
for the Lantern Festival

Yuanxiao, also called tangyuan, is a dumpling ball made of sticky rice flour stuffed with different fillings. Eating yuanxiao has become an essential part of the festival. The methods for making Yuanxiao differ by region and fillings include sugar, rose petals, sesame, sweetened bean paste, and jujube paste. Some do not have fillings. Because tangyuan can be boiled, fried or steamed, and each has a unique taste, it is very popular. Yuanxiao is round in shape so it is endowed with the meaning of reunion, harmony and happiness. During the night of the festival, family members sit together to taste yuanxiao and appreciate the full moon.

Besides these activities, there is Welcoming Zigu (a kind and poor girl in folklore), in which women make straw and cloth images of Zigu and say consoling words to her expressing people's goodness and their pity for the poor. Because appreciating the lanterns offers a good chance for young boys and girls to communicate with each other, the Lantern Festival is also regarded as Chinese Valentine's Day.

 Further Reading:
 Video of 2012 Xi'an Lantern Festival on the City Wall
 Video of Yangko Dance during Lantern Festival

2019 / 2020 / 2021 China Public Holiday Calendar is available for you to know the schedule of all holidays in China and better make your travel plan.
Chinese Festival Food introducing various delicous dim sum unique to traditional China festivals.

- Last modified on Mar. 04, 2019 -
Questions & Answers on Lantern Festival
Asked by Sean from AMERICA | May. 23, 2019 08:23Reply
Should I get a PS4?
I have an Xbox and some of my favorite games are on the PS4, but those are only 2 games. Would it be a waste of money?
Answers (1)
Answered by Kylie from UNITED KINGDOM | May. 23, 2019 19:57

Well, according to this situation, it is unnecessary for you to buy PS4.
Asked by alexandra olvera flores from MÉXICO | Feb. 18, 2019 22:57Reply
Hello! I live in Beijing. Can you tell me where I can see the dragon dance?
Answers (1)
Answered by Kevin from SINGAPORE | Feb. 19, 2019 16:56

You can enjoy it on Lantern Festival in Yongning Ancient Town, but I'm not sure if you can see it now.
Asked by Ella from CHINA | Feb. 18, 2019 02:20Reply
Hello i love in Suzhou, where i can see the lantern festival activities tomorrow??
Answers (1)
Answered by Ryan from MALAYSIA | Feb. 18, 2019 17:40

Guxumen Square and Shantang Ancient Street are both recommended.
Asked by Zain from CHINA | Feb. 17, 2019 10:07Reply
where we can see lantern festival in beijing?
Hi guys, just wondering where we can see lantern festival 2019 in BJ? Can I've a specific address or places names? Thanks in advance.
Answers (1)
Answered by Sally from NETHERLANDS | Feb. 17, 2019 18:37

Beijing Happy Valley and Yongning Ancient Town are both available.
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