On February 14 lovers all over the world celebrate Valentine’s day, but, this year, in China the day is set to have extra special meaning. Chinese Valentine’s day is known as Qixi Festival, which is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. So, then, what exactly goes down on February 14? Well, this year the Lantern Festival falls on this date.
The Chinese Lantern Festival or Yuan-Xiao Festival is on the 15th day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. The Lantern Festival is the last day of Chinese New Year festival, and you are able to see hundreds of colorful lanterns in markets, store fronts, restaurants and hotels and just about anywhere you go.
On the 15th lunar day of the year, some Chinese families worship the Heaven Officer of Taoism (who is believed to bless humans with luck) and pray for luck at home or at a temple during the daytime. Traditionally, Chinese families decorate their houses with the light lanterns and let children carry candle paper lanterns on the streets. But today people attend many different activities during the Lantern Festival.
During the night of the lantern festival, some people fly sky lanterns, also known as Kongming lanterns (孔明灯, kǒngmíng dēng) or 天灯 (tiān dēng), by writing their wishes on a paper lantern and praying they come true. Years ago, people believed these lanterns flew upwards to heaven. The god of heaven would receive the messages and will give them his blessing (sadly, sky lanterns are soon to be forbidden as they a fire hazard and cause accidents).
Other activities enjoyed during the Lantern festival include folk dances, such as the lion dance, and walking on stilts. The lion dance is one of the most interesting and classic of the Chinese traditional arts. In northern China, the lion dance tends to focus more on the skill of the performers; in the south the lion dancers pay more attention to the actual animal resemblance of the models. According to legend, the lion is a symbol of boldness and strength that can protect people, so by performing the lion dance, everyone prays for an auspicious, successful and happy life.
Walking on stilts is another popular folk art during the Lantern Festival. Performers not only walk on stilts by binding them to their feet, but also perform unbelievably complex moves in a variety of difficult positions. Actors impersonate different characters such as monks, clowns, and fishermen, whilst performing vivid and often humorous acts.
The Lantern Festival also called Yuan Xiao Festival because many households eat yuanxiao (rice balls stuffed with different fillings) on that day. With its rich and colorful activities,the Lantern Festival it is regarded as the day for appreciating the brightness of the moon, and for family reunions. These customs originated in the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the fourth century and then became popular during the Tang and Song Dynasties.
Yuanxiao (元宵) is sweet rice flour made into sticky glutinous balls. They can be filled with sesame, red-beans or peanut butter paste. Usually, they are served with sugar water. You can find Yuanxiao in regular food stores and supermarkets. But if you enjoy cooking, here is a recipe for Yunxiao:
- 500 g sticky rice flour
- 200 g butter
- 200 g black sesame powder
- 250 g sugar
- 1 teaspoon of wine
1. Mix the butter with sesame powder, sugar and wine together. You need to heat it little bit. Form small balls about 10 each.
2. Take 1/2 cup of sticky rice flour. Add water into the flour and make a flatten dough. Cook it in boiled water. Cool it down after taking it out. Then put it in the rest of the sticky rice flour. Add water and knead until the dough is smooth.
3. Make the dough into small pieces about 10 g each. Make it like a ball using hands first and then make a hole in the ball like a snail. Put the sesame ball into it and close it up.
4. Cook them in boiled water. Make sure to keep stirring in one direction while cooking. When they float on the water, continue to boil for it for one more minute, just less heated. .
A Disappearing Custom
The day after Lantern Festival is called Son-In-Law Day. On this day a husband was expected to escort his wife to her “former” home, with the husband becoming the major guest in his parents-in-law’s house. Newly married couples would bring New Year gifts to the wife’s parents. The parents would give them two lotus lanterns in return, one white and the other red, to hang when they return home. On the night of the Lantern Festival the young couple would hang the lotus lanterns beside their bed and light the candles. They would then wait and see which candle burned out first. If the candle in the white lantern burned out first, it meant they would have a baby boy. If the candle in the red one burned out first, it meant they would have a baby girl.