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Introduction to Lantern Festival

By : InKunming/Wikipedia | Published: 2014-February-13

[Inkunming--Festivals] The Lantern Festival also known as Chap Goh Mei in China is a festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunisolar year in the lunar calendar marking the last day of the lunar New Year celebration. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns (simplified Chinese: 猜灯谜).

It officially ends the Chinese New Year celebrations.

It is not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival; which is sometimes also known as the "Lantern Festival" in locations such as Singapore and Malaysia.

In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones . In modern times, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs. For example, lanterns are now often made in the shape of animals. The lanterns can symbolize the people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones, which they will let go of the next year. The lanterns are almost always red to symbolyze good fortune.

History

The first month of the lunar calendar is called the yuan month, and in olden times night was called xiao in Mandarin. Therefore, the day is called Yuan Xiao (元宵) Festival in China. The fifteenth day is the first full moon of that lunar year. According to East Asian tradition , at the beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon in the sky, there should be thousands of colorful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. At this time, people will try to solve puzzles on lanterns, eat glutinous rice balls named after the festival, yuanxiao (also known as tangyuan (simplified Chinese: 汤圆) and enjoy a family reunion.

Origin legends

There are many different beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival. However, it is likely to have had something to do with celebrating and cultivating positive relationships between people, families, nature and the higher beings that were believed to be responsible for bringing or returning the light each year .

One legend tells us that it was a time to worship Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times. The belief was that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. He had sixteendragons at his back and call and he decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine or pestilence upon human beings. Beginning with Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China, who named China, all the emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favorable weather and good health to him and his people .

Wudi of the Han Dynasty directed special attention to this event. In 104 BCE, he proclaimed it to be one of the most important celebrations and the ceremony would last throughout the night.

Another legend associates the Lantern Festival with Taoism. Tianguan is the Taoist god responsible for good fortune. His birthday falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. It is said that Tianguan likes all types of entertainment, so followers prepare various kinds of activities during which they pray for good fortune .

Another legend associates the Lantern Festival with an ancient warrior name Lan Moon, who led a rebellion against the tyrannical king in ancient China. He was killed in the storming of the city and the successful rebels commemorated the festival in his name .

Yet another common legend dealing with the origins of the Lantern Festival speaks of a beautiful crane that flew down to earth from heaven. After it landed on earth it was hunted and killed by some villagers. This angered the Jade Emperor in heaven because the crane was his favorite. So, he planned a storm of fire to destroy the village on the fifteenth lunar day. The Jade Emperor's daughter warned the inhabitants of her father’s plan to destroy their village. The village was in turmoil because nobody knew how they could escape their imminent destruction. However, a wise man from another village suggested that every family should hang red lanterns around their houses, set up bonfires on the streets, and explode firecrackers on the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth lunar days. This would give the village the appearance of being on fire to the Jade Emperor. On the fifteenth lunar day, troops sent down from heaven whose mission was to destroy the village saw that the village was already ablaze, and returned to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor. Satisfied, the Jade Emperor decided not to burn down the village. From that day on, people celebrate the anniversary on the fifteenth lunar day every year by carrying lanterns on the streets and exploding firecrackers and fireworks.

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                                                                       (Editor: Cathy Chen)

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