Also known in Chinese
as Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节; Yuan2 Xiao1 Jie2), this festival
marks the last (the 15th) day of the Chinese Lunar New Year
celebrations. It also has the reputation of being the Chinese Valentines' Day
The festival is said to have started from the Han dynasty
. Dongfang Shuo (東方朔; Dong1 Fang1 Shuo4), a high-ranking minister, overheard a palace maid Yuan Xiao (元宵; Yuan2 Xiao1 ) crying because she could not go home for the Chinese New Year. Touched by her tears, he went to Emperor
Wu (漢武帝; Han4 Wu3 Di4) and lied to him that the city was destined to be razed to the ground by fire 16th days into the lunar year. The reason for this, he said, was because the Jade Emperor (the highest-ranking Taoist deity
) had commanded it. In order to delude the God of Fire
, who was to descend upon the city, the people had to pretend that the city was already ablaze. Lantern
s and firecracker
s should be lit and everyone was to come out of their houses and the palace. As a result, Yuan Xiao managed to meet her family in the streets. This is why the festival is known as the Lantern Festival in English, and Yuan Xiao Festival (after the palace maid) in Chinese.
A traditonal food
for this festival is the tang yuan (湯圓; tang1 yuan2), a round glutinous ball in sweet soup, which symbolises the sweetness of reunion (represented by the glutinous ball). The Lantern Festival is also marked by the guessing of riddle
s. The riddles are often hung up below lanterns for everyone to read. Riddles often come in couplets, though it is not neccessarily so. A simple exmaple I can remember is the question: "Which city does not have women?". The answer is "Seoul
", because its name in Chinese is "Han Cheng" (汉城), where "Han" (汉; han4) stands for man and "Cheng" (城; cheng2), city.
As this is the only night that single
women can step out of their houses for enjoy
ment without guilt, this day is also known as the Chinese Valentines' Day. Singles have a chance to mingle
, though it is not likely that they'll do more than steal a glance at the opposite gender.
It is also interesting to note that the 15th of every month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar
falls on the same day as a full moon
. The full moon symbolises reunion
, therefore it is appropriate that the Lantern Festival falls on the 15th of the first month.