February 24, 2013 - Lantern Festival in China

I already mentioned the Lantern Festival that marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations (also known as the Spring Festival).  Tonight's festival is also called the Yuanxiao Festival because it is traditional to eat yuanxiao, which are rice balls stuffed with various fillings such as sugar, rose petals, sesame, and sweetened bean paste. These rice balls can be boiled, fried, or steamed.

Lighting lanterns on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month of the Chinese year began as a tradition during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE). It was meant to show respect for Buddha. So the Lantern Festival has been celebrated for more than 2,000 years!

One tradition I had never heard of is guessing lantern riddles. People write riddles and paste them on the colorful lanterns in their house or shop. Visitors try to guess the riddles; when people think they know an answer, they pull off the paper and go to the host to see if they are right. Gifts are given to the people who get the right answers.

Another tradition is the Lion Dance. This is often performed by one or two people in a lion costume; performers can either show off their acrobatic and stilt-walking skills or they can go for realistic lionlike movements.

You don't have to be in a lion costume to do stilt-walking during this festival! Many performers walk with stilts bound to their feet, and some performers do difficult tricks on the stilts.

If I could be anywhere in China tonight, I might choose Culture Park in Sichuan. The park is supposed to be an ocean of lit lanterns, with one golden-dragon lantern spiraling up a 27-meter-high pole; the dragon lantern spews fireworks from its mouth!

  • Kaboose offers directions to help you make a simple paper lantern.

  • This video shows many more advanced lantern shapes, which you can learn to make here

Also on this date:

Robot-building pioneer Vaucanson's birthday

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