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5 Lantern Festival must-do activities

As you may know, today is the Lantern Festival in China! 元宵节快乐! Yuánxiāojié kuàilè! Happy Lantern Festival!

Lantern Festival marks the last day of the Spring Festival and officially ends the Chinese New Year celebrations. This fun festival is mostly celebrated at nighttime to see the colorful lanterns flying high in the dark sky.In addition to seeing the lanterns flying, during this festival, families gather to attend four other major activities on this special day. Let’s learn the five must-do activities for a happy Lantern Festival so you can join in in the fun!

Shanghai Lantern Festival 2014

Shanghai Lantern Festival 2014

The lantern festival activity you have to do: Watching the lanterns

The Lantern Festival was born when a Buddhist Emperor during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25) gave the order to light lanterns on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month to honor Buddha. Since that day, the 15th day of the first lunar month has remained the day on which the popular Lantern festival is celebrated by all the Chinese!

On this special day, Chinese people like to hang lanterns up on their house and light them. Walking around in China, you’ll see lanterns everywhere, in malls, shops, houses, in parks and in the streets.

These lanterns are mostly either traditionally round or shaped like fishes or dragons. This year you will also see monkeys as it’s the Year of the Monkey!

People choose to design their lanterns according to what they want to praise (zodiac signs, food, flowers,..)

Chinese Lantern Festival

The belief during this festival is by lighting a lantern, you make a wish. So Chinese families light their lanterns and pray for health, fortune, wealth or make even more precise wishes. It is said that if you want your wish to come true, you must walk under a hanging lantern and pray for what you want.

So, at the end of the day, people light their lanterns and watch them fly away in the dark sky, accompanied by fireworks. Releasing the lanterns, which are red for good luck, symbolizes people letting go of their past selves and embracing new identities for the coming year.

Dragon lantern


What do you do during the Lantern Festival? Guess lantern riddles

Another popular activity during the Lantern Festival is to guess lanterns riddles.

A Chinese little girl and her mom try to guess a lantern riddle in Chinese for the Lantern Festival

Lantern riddles are called 灯迷 dēng mí in Chinese, where dēng is a lantern, lamp, or light, and refers to a puzzle, riddle, enigma, or conundrum.

The lanterns’ owners write riddles on small strips of paper they attach to the lantern they have hanging outside their home, so visitors can try to guess and solve the riddle.

If the visitors come up with an answer to the riddle (they are usually pretty tough to guess!), they can take off the paper and give it to the lantern owner. If the visitor guessed the right answer, then they win a little gift, given by the owner.

And this is how you change your casual stroll in the streets into a delightful moment by solving riddles. Fun, right?

What can you watch during the festival? A lion dance

Another popular Lantern Festival custom is to see a lion dance. In a Lion Dance, two people hide under a lion outfit, one manages the head and forelegs, and the other the back and rear legs.

Then, following the beat of musicians often playing gong, cymbals or a drum live, the two people in the lion outfit make the lion dance. Chinese people really enjoy the Lion dance, and it’s easy to see why: the dance is really acrobatic and awe-inspiring. The Chinese also find the Lion Dance very amusing to them as the dancers usually depict a lion’s movement in an exaggerated and comical way.
In a Lion Dance, the lion symbolizes boldness and bravery. The dance carries the meaning that people should be empowering themselves. During this dance, Chinese wish for a happy life and this dance is supposed to bring good luck to those who watch it.

Here’s what a lion dance looks like:

Other Lantern Festival activties:

Walking on stilts

If lion dances aren’t your thing, you can also go watch acrobats walk around on stilts. During Lantern Festival celebrations, you’ll often see actors walking around on stilts, embodying different characters such as fishermen, monks, clowns. As they walk on stilts, they perform difficult artistic moves and try to be as funny as possible to amuse people.

Eating 元宵 (Yuánxiāo)

元宵 (Yuánxiāo)

元宵 (Yuánxiāo)

Lastly, a big Lantern Festival tradition is to eat 元宵  (Yuánxiāo) and these sticky balls are so yummy you’d be sorry to miss out on this excuse to eat sweet stuff.

`元宵 Yuánxiāo are sticky rice dumplings that can be stuffed with white sugar, brown sugar, sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, rose petals, bean paste, and jujube paste, or any combination of two or three ingredients. For Chinese people, the roundness of the dumplings symbolizes the togetherness as it is a great time for family gatherings.

So there you have it, the top 5 activities you need to do to be able to say “I’ve celebrated the Lantern Festival”! Which activity would you rather attend? Have you already been part of the Lantern festival? Share your experience with us!

I, personally, went to Shanghai Lantern Festival and I recommend it! It was enchanting with all the lights, the decors and the colors!

Source photo: Patrick LégerHujiang ChineseUwishunu
Pauline and

The Nincha Team

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