According to Chinese tradition, the celebration of Chinese New Year continues until the Lantern Festival, which is on the 15th day of the first lunar month. The festival is another highlight of the New Year celebrations.
The Lantern Festival is also called Yuanxiao Festival. It was on Feb. 17 this year. Last year, it was on Feb. 28, and next year it will be on Feb. 6. In 2007, it was as late as April 3.
There are many stories about the origin of the festival. One story is from the time of Qin Shihuang (259–210 B.C.), the first emperor to unite the country.
It was believed that the God of Heaven was born on the 15th day of the first month. Since the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world and decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine, or pestilence upon human beings, the emperor would pray especially to the God of Heaven for favorable weather and good health on that day.
Another popular story is about Emperor Mingdi (A.D. 28–75) of the East Han Dynasty, who sent a scholar to India to get Buddhist scriptures.
After journeying thousands of miles, the scholar finally returned with the scriptures on the 15th day of the first month. The emperor was so pleased that he ordered people to display lighted lanterns on that night since it was said that the power of Buddha can dispel darkness.
Since then, all subsequent emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The lantern displays would last for three days in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907) and five days in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279).
Subsequently, the festival became an important one that was celebrated together by people from all social classes. Many kinds of colorful glass and even jade were used to make lanterns with figures from folk tales painted on them.
Nowadays, the display of lanterns on the 15th day of the first lunar month is still a big event throughout China. It is the first night of the year for people to see a full moon.
At this time, many colorful lanterns are hung out for the occasion, and people enjoy the brightly lit night, which is an impressive sight. Family members gather together in a joyful atmosphere and eat Yuanxiao.
Story of Yuanxiao
Most Chinese people still call the Lantern Festival the Yuanxiao Festival. Yuanxiao is a small, round dumpling made of glutinous rice flour with various fillings.
Yuanxiao was originally the name of a palace maid who could make delicious dumplings for Emperor Wudi (156–87 B.C.). Once she entered the palace, she lost all contact with her parents and sisters, as it was forbidden for palace girls to be in touch with their families.
One day, she was so homesick that she cried in the garden. Minister Dong, who was picking some plum flowers for the emperor, saw her crying. Upon hearing her story, Dong promised to help her.
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