Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the beginning of The Lantern Festival. Another name of this Lantern Festival is Yuan Xiao. This festival belongs to the Chinese people which denotes the climactic finale of Chinese New Year. This traditional celebration is in place for more than 2000 years. Besides, it dates back to China’s Han Dynasty. This festival gives us time to enjoy night time, gaze at the moon, enjoy lion dances and eat rice balls, telling riddles, and lighting lanterns. There are many other reasons too.

Lantern Festival

 

Earlier, Lantern Festival had another name as Shang Yuan. During those days, this festival’s design was offering to God. Every family lit lanterns near their homes to represent a holy place. In the modern day celebration, lanterns are very large in size and design. There is one special lantern which Kongming lantern that represents happiness. Another one is the Sky lantern which is lit by newlyweds or couples. During this celebration, families gather for a holiday feast, featuring yuan xiao—also known as tāng yuan. Special foods are also made as rice dumplings filled with syrup and bean paste. Read more on the Google Doodle page.

Lantern Festival – History:

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. The Lantern Festival aims to promote reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness.

The holiday marks the first full moon of the new lunar year and the end of the Chinese New Year. The King ordered the celebration after the following instance. Emperor Hanmingdi was an advocate of Buddhism. He heard that some monks lit lanterns in the temples to show respect to Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Therefore, he ordered that all the temples, households, and royal palaces should light lanterns on that evening. This Buddhist custom gradually became a grand festival among the people.

Lantern Festival – Patterns of Celebration:

The duration of celebrations varied throughout history. Nowadays, the festival technically isn’t a national holiday, so there aren’t any days off. The best period for Lantern Festival lovers would be the Ming dynasty. It lasted for around 1 month! There are some holidays that coincide with the Lantern Festival and are now celebrated together. The Torch Festival began in ancient times to chase away insects and pests and pray for a good harvest. Children gather firewood and tree branches.

Adults then light them. Holding these torches, entire communities dance in fields from dusk to dawn. Even now, it is still celebrated in some parts of Southwestern China. Vegetable Stealing Festival is celebrated by the Miao ethnicity in China. On that day, groups of girls steal Chinese cabbage from someone’s fields. Being caught is totally fine, but it’s forbidden to steal from relatives or friends. Later, everyone puts the stolen Chinese cabbage together to make a feast. The one who eats the most will be the one to marry first.

Lanterns are the most notable part of the festival. Which you can probably tell by the name. In the early days, the Lantern Festival had another name which was Shang Yuan as mentioned earlier. It was dedicated to the heavenly palace. People would gather in their yards and give offerings to the gods. The lit lantern near the setup represented a god’s seat. Throughout history, countless variations of lanterns have been created. They can be small globes that fit in your palm, or as large as a parade float. People make lanterns in symbolic designs as well. See also: Lunar New Year of multiple countries.

Lantern Festival – Special activities:

Lighting and Watching Lanterns is complete bliss. The dark sky and bright lights with loved ones near. It is a beautiful time to spend worthy of family time. Lighting lanterns is a way for people to pray that they will have smooth futures and express their best wishes for their families. Women who want to be pregnant would walk under a hanging lantern praying for a child.

Guessing Lantern Riddles is another special activity. Lantern owners write riddles on paper notes and pasted them upon the colorful lanterns. People crowd round to guess the riddles. Guessing (solving) lantern riddles, starting in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), is one of the most important and popular activities of the Lantern Festival. If someone thinks they have the right answer, they can pull the riddle off and go to the lantern owner to check their answer. If the answer is right, there is usually a small gift as a prize. As riddle guessing is interesting and informative, it has become popular among all social strata.

Eating tang yuan is an important custom of the Lantern Festival. Tang yuan  are also called yuanxiao when eaten for the Lantern Festival. These ball-shaped dumplings are made of glutinous rice flour and are stuffed with different fillings such as white sugar, brown sugar, sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, rose petals, bean paste, and jujube paste or a combination of ingredients. They are usually sweet. See also: The Thailand festival of lights.

The lion dance is one of the traditional folk dances in China. Ancient people regarded the lion as a symbol of bravery and strength, and thought that it could drive away evil and protect people and their livestock. Therefore, lion dances are performed at important events, especially the Lantern Festival, to ward off evil and pray for good fortune and safety.

Happy Lantern Festival!

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