Lighting the Way
Written by the Chinese American Museum
Lantern Festival Background Information
The Lantern Festival ends the 15-day celebration of Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, and is celebrated the night of the first full moon of the lunar New Year.
The date of Chinese New Year changes and is different from the date of New Year’s in the United States because Chinese New Year’s is not based on the Western Gregorian calendar. It is based on the Chinese calendar, which is a complex combination of the solar and lunar calendars.
During the 15-day celebration of Chinese New Year, people make a fresh start and set the tone for the upcoming year. It is a time for reconciliation, to make peace and forgive old grudges. People are warm and friendly to one another, and many families, friends and neighbors exchange gifts. There are many practices that symbolize a new start, homes and businesses are cleaned, and many people wear only new clothes on New Year’s Day. A very important part of the New Year celebration is to honor and respect deceased relatives and ancestors. This is also because family unity is a central value of Chinese New Year. The holiday brings families together to celebrate with each other. This 15-day celebration ends with the Lantern Festival.
There are many different stories about the origins of the Lantern Festival, which has been in practice for around 2,000 years. Some of these stories are based on spirituality, and others on events that happened in the past. People celebrate the Festival in different ways, but the main attraction has always been the lanterns.
Lantern Festival lanterns are very diverse. Many of them illustrate scenes from historic Chinese stories and legends that express traditional values. They are also made to represent the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac and heroic figures. These are only some examples. The variety of lanterns is limitless. A popular component of some lanterns is lantern riddles. These are riddles that are stuck on the surface of lanterns for people to guess. The subjects of the riddles are often traditional Chinese songs, poems, stories or historical events. People very much enjoy the challenge of solving the riddles and lantern riddle parties are sometimes held at temples on the night of the Lantern Festival. So not only are the lanterns beautiful and decorative, they also celebrate and express Chinese history and culture.
Lantern Festival is also popularly referred to as Chinese Valentine’s Day. In the past, it was the only day of the year that a single woman could go out (chaperoned) and be seen by eligible bachelors. Now, many single people gather at the festival, and some play matchmaking games with the lanterns.
Lantern Festival is also celebrated by eating tang yuan, round balls of sticky rice flour with a variety of fillings, including black sesame paste, tangerine peel, walnuts, meats, fish, and vegetables. It is an important practice to eat tang yuan during the lantern festival because they symbolize family reunion and unity, important values of the celebration, and their shape represents the full moon.
Last year, the Lantern Festival marked the beginning of the Year of the Monkey. In 2005, it welcomes the Year of the Rooster. Roosters are proud, confident, and ambitious. The Year of the Monkey was full of adventure and the unexpected, and the Year of the Rooster will be one of achievement and pride.
Even though the Lantern Festival originated in China, many Chinese Americans celebrate it here in America as well. We are proud to carry on these traditions and share them with you. Celebrate the Lantern Festival with the Chinese American Museum. Close the joyous 15-day celebration of family unity, reconciliation, and good fortune, and enter the New Year by learning about Chinese culture and art forms, including lantern making!
CHINESE AMERICAN MUSEUM
425 North Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
For more information visit: www.camla.org
Telephone: (213) 485-8567 or (213) 626-5240
Tuesday – Sunday
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$2 Seniors (60+) and Students with I.D.
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