Lantern Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. This is the first full moon of the new year, symbolizing unity and perfection. Lantern Festival is an important part of Spring Festival , and marks the official end of the long holiday.
There are many legends concerning the origins of Lantern Festival.
According to one legend, once in ancient times, a celestial swan came into the mortal world where it was shot down by a hunter. The Jade Emperor, the highest god in Heaven, vowed to avenge the swan. He started making plans to send a troop of celestial soldiers and generals to Earth on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, with orders to incinerate all humans and animals. But the other celestial beings disagreed with this course of action, and risked their lives to warn the people of Earth. As a result, before and after the fifteenth day of the first month, every family hung red lanterns outside their doors and set off firecrackers and fireworks, giving the impression that their homes were already burning. By successfully tricking the Jade Emperor in this way, humanity was saved from extermination.
According to another legend, during the time of Emperor Han Wudi of the Han Dynasty , a palace woman named Yuanxiao was prevented from carrying out her filial duty of visiting her parents on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Distraught, she said she would kill herself by jumping into a well. In order to help Yuanxiao fulfill her duty as a filial daughter, the scholar Dongfang Shuo came up with a scheme. He told Emperor Han Wudi that the Jade Emperor, the highest god in Heaven, had ordered the Fire God to burn down the capital city of Chang'an on the sixteenth day of the first lunar month. Anxious to find a way to save his city, the emperor asked Dongfang Shuo what he should do. Dongfang Shuo replied that the Fire God loved red lanterns more than anything. He advised that the streets be hung with red lanterns, and the emperor, empress, concubines, and court officials come out of the palace to see them. In this way, the Fire God would be distracted and disaster averted. The emperor followed Dongfang Shuo's advice, and while everyone was out viewing the lanterns, Yuanxiao was able to sneak out of the palace and be reunited with her parents.
Although the above stories are quite fantastical, it is sure that the origins of Lantern Festival are related to ancient humanity's use of fire to celebrate festivals and avert disaster. Since Lantern Festival involves making offerings to the deities and is celebrated at night, it is natural that fire would play an important role. Over time, Lantern Festival gradually evolved into its present form. When Buddhism was introduced to China during the Eastern Han Dynasty , the emperor decreed that on the night of the full moon of the first lunar month, lanterns should be lit to honor Buddha, adding yet another level of significance to Lantern Festival. And according to Daoism, Lantern Festival is associated with the primordial deities of Heaven and Fire, who were born on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.
Eating yuanxiao (sweet dumplings made with glutinous rice flour) is one of the special traditions of Lantern Festival. Lantern Festival is also called Yuanxiao Festival. Another name for yuanxiao is tangyuan, which literally means "boiled spheres."
Yuanxiao is the special food for the Lantern Festival. It is believed that Yuanxiao is named after a palace maid, Yuanxiao, of Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty. Yuanxiao is a kind of sweet dumpling, which is made with sticky rice flour filled with sweet stuffing. And the Festival is named after the famous dumpling. It is very easy to cook - simply dump them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes - and eaten as a dessert.
Guessing lantern riddles元宵节习俗：猜灯谜
"Guessing lantern riddles"is an essential part of the Festival. Lantern owners write riddles on a piece of paper and post them on the lanterns. If visitors have solutions to the riddles, they can pull the paper out and go to the lantern owners to check their answer. If they are right, they will get a little gift. The activity emerged during people's enjoyment of lanterns in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). As riddle guessing is interesting and full of wisdom, it has become popular among all social strata.
Watch fireworks 元宵节习俗：看烟火
In the daytime of the Festival, performances such as a dragon lantern dance, a lion dance, a land boat dance, a yangge dance, walking on stilts and beating drums while dancing will be staged. On the night, except for magnificent lanterns, fireworks form a beautiful scene. Most families spare some fireworks from the Spring Festival and let them off in the Lantern Festival. Some local governments will even organize a fireworks party. On the night when the first full moon enters the New Year, people become really intoxicated by the imposing fireworks and bright moon in the sky.