The Lantern Festival (元宵节, Yuánxiāo jié) is the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration. This day is for the last moment for setting off fireworks, the last excuse for eating a big feast and the last chance for family getting together before the “年” celebrations are over.
The Lantern Festival, the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar, is the first full moon of the year. Celebrations and traditions on this day date back to the Western Han Dynasty.
Traditions for this festival: as the name indicates, hanging and looking at lanterns is the main tradition. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are displayed on trees, or along river banks. Parents often take their children to Lantern Fairs and sometimes lucky kids even get a mini toy lantern.
Another tradition is guessing lantern riddles. These are riddles that are hung on lanterns for people to shoot down and solve. The riddles are usually short, wise, and sometimes humorous. The answer to a riddle can be a Chinese character, a famous person’s name, a place name or a proverb. This tradition has become a popular game with serious staying power even as social development changes other traditions.
Other than that, the most important thing to do today is to eat sweet dumplings. In northern China, sweet dumplings made of glutinous rice flour are called “元宵” while in southern part they are called “汤圆”. Typical sweet dumplings are filled with black sesame sauce, sweetened bean paste, or hawthorn. Making “元宵” today is like a game or an activity, so it’s seldom done without a reason and a group of friends or family present to help out.
Of course, today is the Lantern Festival, so if you haven’t already started cooking, you may have to buy your 元宵 (yuánxiāo). Where to buy the most authentic “元宵” in Beijing? My strong recommendation is the”老字号” such as “稻香村” and “锦芳” shops. But prepare yourself; these places are going to be crowded today!
While you’re waiting in line, here are two riddles for you to work on. We’ll post the answers in tomorrow’s blog post.
- 十五天 (the answer is a Chinese character)
- 门前有一人 (the answer is a Chinese character)