7 Historical Facts to Know About Chinese Lantern Festivals

Like me, you probably want to find out more about the different cultures found around the world including the stunning beauty of the Chinese Lantern Festival. The BBC explains it is held each year to celebrate the end of the Chinese New Year festivities, the Lantern Festival has become one of the most impressive cultural events in the world. Looking back at the history of this impressive festival, I discovered there are many myths and stories told about the origins of a festival I find amazing.

1. The Origin Myth

There are a number of origin stories regarding the start of the Chinese Lantern Festival, but the one I find most impressive is that of the Jade Emperor, You Di. This myth explains the people of a small village had angered the Emperor by killing his goose leading to the promise of retribution from You Di. The Encyclopedia Britannica reveals a fairy was said to have warned the villagers of the coming attack from the Jade Emperor and told them to light red lanterns throughout the village on the 15th night of the first month of the year. Believing the village was already ablaze, the Jade Emperor returned to his palace without gaining his revenge.

2. A Buddhist Festival

Perhaps a more believable version of the origins of the Chinese Lantern Festival is that of the early adoption of an ancient Buddhist ritual. The Buddhist monks of China have been lighting lanterns in honor of the Buddha on the 15th day of each New Year. Over time, the majority of the population quickly began to adopt the tradition which has spread across much of Asia.

3. The Return of Spirits and Ghosts

Another story regarding the origins of the festival is that of the annual return of spirits and ghosts of ancestors to the world on the 15th day of the first month of the year. A popular myth, which I would like to believe in explains the spirits of the ancestors of Chinese people return to the world for a single night. The lighting of red lanterns on this night is designed to light the way for these spirits to keep them safe throughout the night.

4. The Dating Festival

Throughout the history of China, the rules of society have been strict regarding the opportunities for single people to meet without a chaperone. The Chinese Lantern Festival was so popular it became a rare moment when single people could mingle without anybody keeping an eye on potential lovers.

5. Sticky Rice Balls

One of the features I love about the majority of Chinese festivals is the chance to enjoy the traditional sticky rice balls meal. Rice balls are a popular dish for each and every festival remaining loved across the nation. Rice balls are created with sesame paste or various sweet and salty fillings boiled in water until they are tender and ready to eat.

6. Writing Riddles on Lanterns

As the Chinese Lantern festival has evolved over the years, a number of traditions have developed including that of writing riddles on lanterns. During the Lantern Festival, the majority of people write riddles on their lanterns and give a small gift to those who answer the riddles correctly.

7. Understanding the Darkness of the Month

One of the historical reasons for the lighting of lanterns in the first month of the Chinese New Year is the fact this is the darkest period of each year. The name of the first month of the year in Chinese is Yuanyue, which translates to the first night. Lighting lanterns on the night of the first full moon of the year are said to be of importance in adding some light to the darkest period of each year in China.

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