Chinese Lantern Festival a.k.a. Yuan-Xiao Festival is on the
15th day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar.
In China time zone,
The Lantern Festival is a traditional Chinese festival since Han Dynasty more than 2000 years ago. In the early Tan Dynasty (618-907AD), it was called the Shan-Yuan Festival, because of Taoism. in the late Tan Dynasty, it was called the Yuan-Xiao Festival. It was called Lantern Night in the Sun Dynasty (960-1297 A.D.). The Lantern Festival was used in Ching Dynasty (1644-1911 AD).
According to Taoism, Shan-Yuan (first period of the year) Festival is the birthday of the Heaven Officer who blesses human luck. On the 15th lunar day of 7th lunar month is Chung-Yuan (middle period of the year) Festival, which is the birthday of the Hell Officer who has right to pardon ghosts. On this day, all the ghosts can leave hell to human world for food. So the 7th lunar month is called Ghost Month. Many Chinese won't get married in this month. The 15th lunar day of 10th lunar month is Xia-Yaun (last period of the year) Festival. This day is the birthday of the Water Officer who can rescue people in trouble.
On the 15th lunar day of the year, some Chinese families worship the Heaven Officer of Taoism and pray for luck at home or temple during the daytime. Traditionally, Chinese should decorate the light lanterns around the house and children carry the candle paper lantern on the street at night. It might the safety concern, not too many follow this custom today. In stead, many people will attend different activities of the Lantern Festival.
The lantern displays can be found in the town center square and temples. Usually. there is the lantern competition at the temple. Traditional lanterns are made by paper. They can make the lantern tuning around by the heat circulation from the candle inside. Today the light of the lantern is from the electricity. People like to design lantern using zodiac animals, historical figures, saint and gods of Taoism or Buddhism. Certainly, the current year's animal symbol of the Chinese calendar is most popular subject. Using the computer tool today, they can design the lantern with different movements, the different colors of light and even using the laser light with special visual and sound effects.
The Lantern Carnival
In Taiwan, the government builds a giant zodiac animal lantern more than 15 kilometer high on the square of a major city every year to promote the touring business since 1990. Around the major lantern, many lanterns from different grade schools, organizations, and foreign countries will be displayed on different sections for competition. There is the parade and traditional art performance beginning at afternoon till the opening light ceremony at night. The laser show will perform with 5 or 6 subjects after open light ceremony. The fireworks will come in the end. The lantern riddle game is usually sponsored by the temple. People give the correct answer for the riddle will received a gift. It's always very crowded when the game begins. Food, store, games, gift shops, performance are available around the lantern displays for people and tourists. This lantern carnival will be held more than a week.
The Sky Lantern
The sky lantern probably was invented before Late Han Dynasty. A prime minister Kung-Ming used sky lantern for military liaison purpose during Three Kingdom epoch (221A.D.). Some people still call the sky lantern as Kung-Ming lantern.
During the night of lantern festival, Some people in Taiwan will fly the sky lantern by writing their wishes on the paper lantern and pray their wishes come true. Long time ago, people thought the lantern will fly up to the heaven. The god of heaven will receive their messages and will give them blessing.
There is a story for this custom. Once a village was attacked by the private. When the private ship came, people ran to and hide in the mountain. When private left, some one in the town flew the sky lantern to tell people in the mountain safe to come home. It happened on the 15th lunar day in that year. Now people do the same way to depict their peace, safety and without accident.
Another special event for young people in Taiwan is the Mass Rocket-Firecracker Artillery. People standing in the open square area, surrounding with many rocket-firecracker launchers and waiting for rocket-firecracker to shoot on them. Therefore people will wear helmet, goggles, face mask, rain coat, gloves, long pants and boots to protect their body. They said to hit by the rocket-firecracker will bring good luck to them.
There is a story for this custom. Once there is a plague among the village, no medicine can stop the disease. Finally, people brought out the idol statue of the god on the sedan chair from the temple and paraded to every street in the village. They exploded the firecrackers and continuously burned the incense as long the statue of the god pass for three days. On the 15th day of the first lunar month, the plague disappeared. People gave the credit to the god. People have their next generations to continue this religious custom by exploding the firecrackers. Once they made a firecrackers for 13 kilometer long, which was more than 200,000 firecrackers. Certainly, it took hours to finish the explosion.
Lantern Festival is also called. Yuan-Xiao Festival. This is because Chinese eat Yuan-Xiao on this day. This custom originated from the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the fourth century, then became popular during the Tang and Song Dynasty.
Yuan-Xiao just like Tang-Yuan . They are made of sweet rice flour into sticky glutinous balls. They can be filled in with sesame, red-bean or peanut butter paste. Usually, they are severed with sugar water. But some people still make salty Tang-Yuan.
The difference between Yuan-Xiao and Tang-Yuan is the way they are made and cooked. This is because that Chinese in different geographic area prepare the food in different way. Chinese call the one they eat on Winter Solstice Day is Tang-Yuan. The one they eat on the Lantern festival is called Yuan-Xiao.
The Legendary Story
There was a beautiful bird flew down to the earth from the heaven. It was hunted by the village people. The Jade Emperor in Heaven was very anger, because the bird was his favorite one. He ordered to destroy the village and kill all people with a storm of fire on the 15th lunar day. The daughter of Jade Emperor heard of this act of vengeance, and warned the villagers to prepare for that. Everybody worried about it and no one had any idea to face the fact.
Luckily, a wise man past the village and made the suggestion that every house should hang red lanterns around the house, setup campfire on the street, explode the bamboo firecracker, made fireworks on 14th, 15th and 16th lunar days. In this way, Jade Emperor might think all village people die under fire and all the villagers can save their lives and properties.
On the night of 15th lunar day, the troop coming down from the heaven looked the village was ablaze and returned back to heaven to report the Jade Emperor. Satisfied with the result, the Jade Emperor decided not to burn down the village. From that day on, people celebrated the anniversary on 15th lunar day every year by carrying red lanterns on the streets and explode the firecracker and fireworks.
Another Legendary Story
In Han Dynasty, Mr. Eastern is a favorite advisor of the emperor. One winter day, he went to the garden and heard a little girl crying and ready to jumping into well to suicide. Mr. Eastern stopped her and asked for why. She was a maid in the emperor's palace and her name was Yuan-Xiao. She never have chance to meet her family after she worked at palace. She missed them so much every 12th lunar month. If she couldn't have the chance to show her filial piety in this life, she would like to die. Mr. Eastern promised her to find a way for her family reunion.
Mr. Eastern left the palace and put a table on the street and disguised as a fortuneteller. since his reputation, many people asked for the fortune. But every one had the same prediction - severely fire accident on 15th lunar day. The rumor spread quickly. Everyone worried about the future and asked Mr. Eastern for help.
Mr. Eastern said, "On the 13th lunar day, the God of Fire will send a fairy lady in red to burn down the city. If you see a lady in red with green pant on the black horse on that day, You should ask for her mercy." Yuan-Xiao acted the red fairy lady on that day. When people asked for her help, she said, "Yes. I'm the messenger of the God of Fire and come to check on the city and going to set up fire on 15th. This is an order from Jade Emperor. He will watch from the heaven. I give you a copy of imperial decree from the God of Fire. You should go to ask your emperor to find a way out." After she left, people went to palace to show emperor the decree which is written - capital city is in trouble, fire burns on the palace, heaven fire burns all night long on the 15th.
The emperor of Han Dynasty was greatly shocked. He called and asked Mr. Eastern for the advise. After pondering for a while, Mr. Eastern said, "I heard the God of Fire likes to taste Tang-Yuan. Does Yuan-Xiao often cook Tang-Yuan for you? On the 15th lunar day, let Yuan-Xiao make Tang-Yuan. Your Majesty takes charge of the worship ceremony and gives order to every house to prepare Tan-Yuan to worship the God of Fire in the same time. Also, deliver another order to ask every house in the city to hang red lantern and explode fire crackers. Plus, inform that everyone in the palace and people outside the city to carry their lanterns on the street to watch the lantern decoration and fireworks. In this way, Jade Emperor wouldn't be deceived at heaven. Then everyone can be out of fire accident trouble." The emperor happily followed the plan.
Lanterns were everywhere in the capital city at the night of 15th lunar day. People were all moving on the street. Fire crackers kept making noisy. It looked like entire city on fire. Yuan-Xiao's parents went into the palace to watch the lantern decoration. Yuan-Xiao made a big lantern and wrote down her name outside the lantern. they happily reunited together after her parents called her name. Everybody was safe during the night. The emperor of Han Dynasty had a new order that people should do the same thing every year. Because Yuan-Xiao cooked the best Tan-Yuan, people called the day as Yuan-Xiao festival.
The Disappearing Custom
On the second day of the year is called Son-In-Law Day for the newly married couples. The husband needs to escort his wife to return her home. The husband becomes the major guest in his mother-in-law house. The married couples will bring New Year's gifts to the woman's parents. The parents give them two lotus lanterns, one white and the other red, to hang when they return home.
On the night of the Lantern Festival the young couples hang them beside their bed, and they light candles in the two lanterns. After that they wait and see which candle burns out first. If the candle in the white one burns out first, it means they will have a baby boy. If the candle in the red one burns out first, it means they will have a girl.