The Lantern Festival is a Chinese festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It marks the final day of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, and usually falls on some day in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), it had become a festival with great significance.
There are many different beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival. However, one likely origin is the celebration of “the declining darkness of winter” and community’s ability to “move about at night with human-made light,” namely, lanterns. During the Han Dynasty, the festival was connected to Ti Yin, the deity of the North Star.
One legend tells us that it was a time to worship Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times. The belief was that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. He had sixteen dragons at his beck and call and he decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine or pestilence upon human beings. Beginning with Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who named China, all the emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favorable weather and good health to him and his people.
In the early days, young people were chaperoned in the streets in hopes of finding love. Matchmakers acted busily in hopes of pairing couples. The brightest lanterns were symbolic of good luck and hope. As time has passed, the festival no longer has such implications in most of China, but it is still commercialized as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Eaten during the Lantern Festival, tangyuan ‘湯圓'(Rice ball) is a glutinous rice ball typically filled with sweet red bean paste, sesame paste, or peanut butter. The Chinese people believe the round shape of the balls, and the bowls in which they are served symbolize family togetherness, and that eating tangyuan may bring the family happiness and good luck in the new year.