Chinese Lantern Festival: 4 Best Activities To Try

Chinese Lantern Festival

Have you ever heard of the spectacular Chinese Lantern Festival or Yuan Xiao Festival (元宵节)? It’s THE event everyone looks forward to during the Lunar New Year celebrations across China. I’m talking about a full day of festivities filled with dazzling red lanterns, mouthwatering desserts, fun riddles, and lively performances.

Now as a self-confessed Chinese culture vulture and festival junkie, I make sure to experience this iconic festival through the four best activities guaranteed to delight your senses. Want the insider’s scoop to fully soak up the Chinese Lantern Festival? Then grab some tangyuan and discover more in this post!

Oh, and as a gift, I’ll also share with you some easy Chinese phrases related to this celebration. Let’s begin!

What Is The Chinese Lantern Festival

What Is The Chinese Lantern Festival?

If you’ve ever experienced New Year celebrations in China, you’ll know why kids will suddenly become giddy once February comes. You see, the colorful Chinese Lantern Festival typically falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, marking the very first full moon of the Lunar New Year.

Its name, “Yuan Xiao,” translates to the beginning of the night, but this romantic event gives single ladies rare permission to stay out late. I kid you not: back in ancient times, unmarried women were mostly confined indoors, so this was their yearly opportunity to rock pretty lanterns outdoors alongside potential suitors. Some even dub it the real “Chinese Valentine’s Day”!

Of course, beyond matchmaking fun, the lantern festival carries deeper cultural meaning:

  • It signifies winter’s end and spring’s delightful beginning
  • Brings families closer as they bond over riddles and sweet rice balls
  • Lanterns embody hopes for good fortune in the coming year
  • People pay respects to ancestors and gods through the glow of lanterns

How To Celebrate Traditional Chinese Lantern Festival

Lighting And Watching Lanterns

You ain’t seen nothing yet until you’ve witnessed the Chinese burning bright red during the Lantern Festival! I’m talking glowing lanterns in all shapes and sizes. The streets, parks, malls – everywhere you look it’s just a sea of crimson red omens ushering in prosperity and smooth sailing.

Lighting up lanterns is easily the main event of this festival. In ancient times, Buddhism was gaining major popularity, so clever emperors lit up lanterns to worship Buddha and impress followers. Over dynasties, the Chinese caught on and made it a yearly tradition to invoke blessings through lanterns. I mean, the Chinese word for the lantern is almost similar in sound to “having a newborn,” – so couples would craft lanterns wishing for babies!

Nowadays, it’s more about honoring age-old customs and just letting your hair down to marvel at lit structures. We’re talking flowering lotus lanterns, golden koi fish lanterns, peacock lanterns, and larger-than-life panda lanterns! Big lantern fairs like Nanjing and Shanghai’s Yuyuan pull out all the stops with Chinese imagery.

Tangyuan for Chinese Lantern Festival

Eating Tangyuan (Yuanxiao)

Now what’s a proper Chinese festival without iconic nibbles? The Lantern Festival is all about steaming baskets of glutinous rice balls, aka tangyuan, floating in sweet soup. These bite-sized treats are also playfully called yuanxiao or “first evening” – how apt!

Tangyuan reflects my favorite aspects of Chinese cuisine – colorful, cute, and bursting with symbolism. The round shape is meant to signify family reunion and completeness. As they sound similar to the words for “reunion,” wolfing down tangyuan with loved ones expresses hopes for future gatherings!

The best part is how every region jazzes up tangyuan to highlight local fruits and flavors. You’ll catch roasted peanut, black sesame paste, red bean paste, jujube and dried orange peel stuffed in soft rice skin. Then they get doused in an aromatic ginger or floral osmanthus soup. Simply divine!

Guessing Lantern Riddles

If the glowing lantern displays don’t dazzle you enough, try solving some brain-twisting riddles during the Lantern Festival! This entertainment tradition started hundreds of years ago, owners would paste witty poetry-style puzzles on lanterns, and folks tried cracking them for gifts. Talk about testing wisdom under fire (or lantern light)!

Now, I ain’t gonna lie – many of these Chinese riddles rhythmically rhyme, so it almost feels like epic lantern rap battles! Crowds go wild for this stuff! The clues embed cultural references, so you gotta be quick-thinking to decipher the connections.

My favorite memory was puzzling over a long verse about “Silver shines brightly when visiting Golden’s house.” After racking my brain about whether it described some historic feud, I literally did not know the answer. The good news is that some of the locals found it amusing to watch me think about the answer, so they ended up giving me a box of mooncakes for trying to solve that one!

Lion And Dragon Dances For the Chinese Lantern Festival

Watching Lion And Dragon Dances

Trust me, you haven’t fully soaked up the Lantern Festival until you’ve witnessed fiery dragon and lion dances! It’s easily the most heart-thumping entertainment to catch under the glow of lanterns. Decked-out dancers bring these mythical beasts alive, often to booming drums and clashing cymbals. I swear the hypnotic moves make you feel like you’ve time-traveled centuries back!

Watching their huge bobbing heads, fuzzy furs, and googly eyes, you can totally imagine how old legends of their powers sparked. Add the fact these costumes require multiple highly-coordinated dancers, and you’ve got incredible cultural spectacles that really spark mass merriment!

Easy Chinese Lantern Festival Greetings

Ready to light lanterns but also interested in speaking with the locals? No worries, here are helpful Chinese greetings to spread good cheers during the Lantern Festival!

Xǐnnián kuàilè (新年快乐) – “Happy New Year”

This all-purpose celebration blessing can’t go wrong during the Lantern Festival. Joyously shout it when receiving red packets or taking group photos!

Suì suì píng ān (岁岁平安)

Translation: “Peace and security for years to come”

As tangyuan symbolizes family unity, use this greeting to wish adopted families or hosts auspicious years ahead.

Yuán xiāo tiān, fān suì yuán yuán (元宵天, 范穗圆圆)

Translation: “Perfectly complete and round year”

Wow locals by smoothly invoking this tongue-twister blessing for a prosperous year without troubles, just like the round tangyuan balls and lanterns everywhere.

Ready To Hang Red Lanterns?

By now, I think you’re ready for those glowing rice balls, fiery riddles, and dragon dances under the lanterns! If you now want to pick up more Chinese for travel, try the Ling app! With 10-minute audio lessons, it sticks everyday phrases in your head, so you’ll sound like an honorary local in no time.

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