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Panda, a common typing and binding worker in State Grid for 21 years. Own a bachelor degree of Chinese Language and Literature, and a certificate of teaching Chinese. She is pursuing a Master of Chinese Classical Literature in HuBei University, and studying the novels of Ming & Qing dynasties.
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The Origin of the Lantern Festival and the Tradition of Eating Tangyuan    

By Panda
9375 Views | 24 Comments | 2/19/2014 3:31:38 PM

February 14, 2014, the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, is the Lantern Festival, and it coincides with the most romantic Valentine's Day in the west. When yuanxiao comes cross roses, how to spend these two festivals on the same day? And how will the impact spark the spirit of the eastern and western cultural differences? What are the history and customs that China's traditional Lantern Festival has?


Our ancients called the first month as lunar “January”“元月”(“yuan” month), the night is called "宵"(xiao), therefore the fifteenth day of lunar “January” is also called Yuan Xiao Festival. And since the fifteenth day of a year is the first full moon night, this night means a renewed beginning, the earth rejuvenation. People celebrate this as a continuation of the New Year celebration, to pray for God to give good weather, good wind and good rain(上风上水 shang feng shang shui), so the Lantern Festival is also called "ShangYuanJie(上元节)".


It is believed that Yuanxiao元宵 is named after a palace maid, Yuanxiao, of Emperor Wu Di (BC156-BC87) of the Han Dynasty. In the legend, there was a maid in Emperor Wu Di palace, called "yuanxiao", who stayed in the palace for a long time and missed her parents so much that she would spend all the day in tears. Secretary DongFang shuo often saw her eyes and had a thought, he was determined to help the girl. He said to the emperor that the vulcan ordered from the Jade Emperor on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month to burn down Changan. if you want to escape the disaster, the only way was that the "yuanxiao" girl made more tangyuan dumplings on the fifteenth day which vulcan loved to eat, and offered as gifts by all the subjects with lanterns. Sure enough, the emperor was quick to agree with DongFang shuo, "yuanxiao" girl finally met her family. Since then, this day is ordered Lantern Festival.


According to written records, there were no yuanxiao dumplings before Song dynasty (960-1279) in our country. People ate rice porridge or bean porridge covered with gravy in the Lantern Festival at that time. Then in Tang dynasty (618-907) has "make cream porridge in the fifteenth Day, to shrine in portal"“正月十五日作膏粥,以祠门户”, obviously this "cream porridge" is the predecessor of yuanxiao. After many years of evolution, starting from Song dynasty folk to the popular custom to eat the novel food "floating dumplings" in Lantern Festival, the "floating dumplings", which people usually referred to tangyuan汤圆 because its shape is a circle, so full moon in the sky, tangyuan in the bowl, the good intentions of family reunion.


The food of yuanxiao is a good image which has been developing to today to be more and more rich in symbolism. To sum up, in north China it is called yuanxiao, whereas in the south it si called tangyuan. What is the difference between yuanxiao and tangyuan? The first is that the method of making the two are not the same, the south's tangyuan is made with sticky rice flour, add water and into the future, as a filling package. Yuanxiao in the north has a layer of glutinous rice powder directly rolled out. With respect to the taste, the northern people eat yuanxiao made from scratch which is chewier, while the thin skin filling stuff in the south is more sticky and soft in the mouth.


After one thousand years of evolution, the making craft and process of yuanxiao also became more and more delicate, only in terms of making yuanxiao face, there are categories such as polished glutinous rice flour, sticky rice flour, yellow rice flour and bract grain; Stuffing content are more items, salty, sweet, meaty & vegetarian to find. Besides osmanthus, hawthorn sugar, there are assorted, bean paste, sesame, peanut, etc. in the sweet tangyuan. Fat meat, cumin sheep meat in the salt yuanxiao, and even appeared to be Fried salty yuanxiao. In addition, vegetarian yuanxiao is more meaningful, with mustard, garlic, leek, ginger, consisting of five pungent yuanxiao not only taste delicious, and said hardworking, up for a long time, can be called a kind of food that is both delicious and full of good moral festival food.


To sum up, in the Lantern Festival to eat a bowl of steaming yuanxiao dumplings is one thing every Chinese must do. In our country folk, there was the custom of "Celebrate the Lantern Festival"“正月十五闹元宵”, unlike other traditional festivals with a family reunion stressed, Lantern Festival emphasize the whole world [nation] joins in the jubilation. During the Lantern Festival, every family has a burning lamp and you are going to have a rich variety of entertainment, shopping mart, watching lanterns, guess riddles, dragon dance, lion dance, yangko dance... So Lantern Festival is regarded as the liveliest festival of the Chinese nation, and is arguably China's carnival.


The Lantern Festival is also a reflection of China's farming culture, seen as the climax of the Spring Festival, because after this day, people will really get into a new year's production and living, so all people in the Lantern Festival celebration, and pray to god bless good crop next year, a good harvest, it also expressed the people to look forward to happiness in the New Year.

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#2014-02-19 15:36:42 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Very nice blog article Panda, and I'm sorry it was published late, although it wasn't entirely our fault, it wasn't yours either. In any event you really nailed it with this one. As usual the pictures are fitting as well.

#2014-02-19 22:38:53 by Barry1 @Barry1

"During the Lantern Festival, every family has a burning lamp"

Interesting information, thank you Panda.

Although with so many burning lamps around the place during the Lantern Festival - combined with plenty of celebratory liquor and half drunk people - I bet more houses are accidentally set on fire and burn down during the Lantern Festival than at any other period during the year!

#2014-02-20 11:40:11 by dancingshoes @dancingshoes


#2014-02-20 16:07:01 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

@Barry1 - is it actually possible to "burn down" concrete buildings?

#2014-02-20 20:35:18 by sandy339 @sandy339

The pictures are so beautiful:-)
I find you have a very good attribute by introducing Chinese culture, which is very good and thanks for the effort :)

#2014-02-21 17:40:39 by Barry1 @Barry1


"is it actually possible to "burn down" concrete buildings?"

An interesting question, John.

I consulted experts on the internet to find out a rigorous answer to your question and yes, fortunately the solution was at hand.

Investigations have revealed that a burning lantern if accidentally knocked over possesses the incendiary power of a small nuclear bomb, if it inadvertently sets off all the fireworks stored in the vicinity. Calculations show that a fifteen story solid concrete apartment block could potentially be totally decimated by the tipping over of a single burning lantern. And when the tall apartment block collapses, no doubt it'll end up causing the collapse of an entire city block, as one apartment block frightfully collapses onto the adjoining one, like a row of huge falling dominos. All from just one lantern.

To all my good friends in China, I offer this stern advice. Be afraid of burning lanterns, people. Be very afraid...

#2014-02-22 14:44:36 by pourquoipasamour @pourquoipasamour

@ Panda Hi Panda. I loved your article. We can always count on you to give us an unbiased insight into Chinese culture, traditions, folklore and every day life. I find the information you provide us always valuable and also entertaining. May I ask you a question? Ho do you manage to insert GIF pictures in your article? When I download GIFs, they stay static, I can not get them to move and sparkle like you did. Please forgive me my ignorance. I wish you all the best. Have a great weekend and please keep writing your articles, I love them, I learn a lot from you. Your country is indeed fascinating and I feel you know a lot about your culture. Long live China. God bless.

#2014-02-22 16:57:05 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

@Barry1 - I wonder how often that happens? :^)

#2014-02-22 18:26:37 by pourquoipasamour @pourquoipasamour

@Barry1, @ John Abbot Just crossed my mind a sentence of a former American President, I don't remember who was, he said "I spent my life worrying about lots of things, 99% of them never happened" ....

#2014-02-22 18:39:58 by pourquoipasamour @pourquoipasamour

@Barry 1 Strange as it may sound to you, Brazilians indeed seem fascinated by Asians, specially Chinese. We use the Chinese lanterns with a candle inside, The time of the year you see this is June, when we have different festivals for different Saints of the Catholic Church (e.g St. Anthony, St. Peter, St. John etc). We have lots of food that are made specially to celebrate these events and we also use a lot of fireworks, another Chinese invention. I have never seen or heard about an accident with such lanterns. Brazilians are very curious and friendly about people of other countries visiting our country. If you go there, they will ask you lots of questions about Australia (which is also a fascinating country). When I came to Canada, I had lots of Canadian friends back in Brazil, which where there living for good. Kiwis no, the first time I saw a Kiwi in my life was in Canada. They have a small population, there are not too many around. Belgians too, (12 million inhabitants, I guess) you see just a few in Brazil. Part of my family came from Germany, part from Belgium and part from France. Brazil is a country of immigrants. The true Brazilians, are our natives. I love that song fro an Australian group, Midnight Oil, "Beds are burning", it says it all.

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