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How to Celebrate A Chinese Lantern Festival

Updated on November 6, 2014

How to Celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival

One of my favorite holidays of the year is the Chinese Lantern festival which marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations (although it is also celebrated in Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia).

Whenever I lived in a large city the local Chinese people would sponsor a huge celebration with hundreds of lanterns on display, along with dancers and musicians and food.

As a child I thought of it as an amazing spectacle, like the more familiar Christmas parade, but not a "real holiday" like the ones my family celebrated. I didn't really know or understand the customs that surrounded the holiday.

But, if you want your children to learn more about other cultures, or to add a holiday to their year which is fun and creative, you might try introducing them to the traditional customs of the Chinese Lantern festival.

Here you'll learn how to make a paper lantern and find recipes for traditional foods eaten on the day. You also learn about other customs surrounding the holiday and the origins of the celebration.

Lantern Festival Dates

The Lantern Festival is held on the 15th day of the first lunar month of the Chinese new year and marks the end of the Chinese New Year Festival. So the date changes from year to year and sometimes isn't even held in February!

Here is a guide to the next few years:

  • Year 2014 was on the 14th of February.
  • Year 2015 is on the 5th of March.
  • Year 2016 is on the 22nd of February.
  • Year 2017 is on the 11th of February.
  • Year 2018 is on the 2nd of March.

Basic Paper Lantern (good for young children)

A nice and simple lantern design.

Dinosaurs at the Lantern Festival in Toronto, by John Vetterli
Dinosaurs at the Lantern Festival in Toronto, by John Vetterli

Lantern Festival Customs

There are actually two days called "lantern festivals" in the Chinese calender, although one is more usually known as the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The one officially called the Lantern Festival is also sometimes seen as the Chinese equivalent of St. Valentine's Day (which is fitting as in 2014 fell on Feb 14th!). This is because couples can spend this night together, viewing the lanterns.

Traditionally, children carried lanterns to temples, although more often in modern times the whole family will go out to view the intricate lanterns created by artisans and displayed in town.

Riddles are pasted onto lanterns for the children to guess, and a traditional food called yuan xiao or tang yuan (which literally means "family reunion") is eaten. Fireworks, dancers and musicians are also there for entertainment.


Demonstration of a Basic Lantern Shape

This video shows you how to make a basic paper shape which can be used to make different kinds of paper lanterns. The kind of paper they are using is available from Amazon (below) or you can use plain copy paper.

Red New Year Envelopes

These envelopes are traditionally used to give money and tokens during Chinese New Year. They are also used in the above video to create paper lanterns.

Floating Chinese Lotus Lanterns by SqueakyMarmot
Floating Chinese Lotus Lanterns by SqueakyMarmot

History of the Lantern Festival

Some think the origins of the Lantern festival come from when Buddhism was first introduced to China. It was a custom of the Buddhists to light lanterns to honor the Buddha on the 15th day of the first month of the year. Since the rulers of China of the Eastern Han dynasty were hoping to promote Buddhism to the people they ordered them to light lanterns at the same time.

However legends about the origins of the practice are a lot more interesting. Some say a god was angered by the people of a town who killed his favorite crane or goose. He was planning to send fire down to punish them, but his daughter warned the people, telling them to light lanterns so that, from heaven, it would look like the town was already burning.

Some say that the festival was to honor a particular god, or a particular great warrior. Others say it was set up purely as a day for family reunions and harmony.


How to Make Yuan Xiao

Yuan Xiao is a kind of dim sum, a round dumpling made from rice flour, with the dough wrapped around sweet bean paste.

While bean paste is the usual filling, you can also use nuts, meat and other things for the stuffing.

It has been eaten in China for over 800 years and is believed to give good luck and long life.

Cooking Ingredients

Need bean paste?

What's Your Favorite Part of the Lantern Festival?


What do you enjoy the most?

See results

Floating Lanterns

Do you love those lanterns that fly into the sky or drift along a river? You can get them from eBay!

How Do You Celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival?

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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      I don't celebrate it, but it sure looks like fun. Thanks for the tutorial. Maybe I'll make a lantern too!

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 5 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I loved making those paper lanterns at school!

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      I enjoyed reading your lens in the February Silly Celebrations. I'd never heard of this Festival before. Thanks for sharing.

    • indigomoth profile image

      indigomoth 5 years ago from New Zealand

      @Virginia Allain: That's a really good point. It's a good follow up to Christmas too, because it's got the themes of family togetherness and really pretty lights, without the anxiety and materialism that can make Christmas a stressful holiday.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      I've never celebrated this, but sounds like fun. After Christmas, there's a big letdown, so this would be a cheerful holiday to pep everyone up.