Lantern festival

Meaning and associated legends

The explanations for this ceremony vary from one person and region to another. One thing is certain, it always takes place on the day of the first full moon each year and closes the cycle of Chinese New Year festivities. It is also called Xiaoguonian (little new year) or Yuanxiao (name of a dessert).

Lanterns Beijing Origin

The legends of the origin of the festival show the anger of a god threatening to burn the capital on the 15th day of the first lunar month. A shrewd person would then have had the idea of bringing out all the inhabitants in the street that night with red lanterns, and hanging on every door, so that the god, believing the city already in the grip of the flames , withdraws. In the most popular version, the Divine Threat is a hoax set up by a big-hearted Imperial Councilor to allow a young servant of the palace to go out and see her family for a night.

Lanterns Buddhist origin

Another story is that during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), Buddhism spread widely in China. After learning that the monks used the 15th of the 1st lunar month to look at the relics of the Buddha and light lamps to honor the gods, the emperor ordered to also light lanterns in the imperial palace and the temples at night this day to honor them in turn. Since then, this Buddhist rite has gradually become a grandiose popular festival in China.

What are the festivities?

In China, people (nowadays, especially children accompanied by their parents) go out for a walk at night with a lantern in their hands. Although the traditional candle-lit paper models (huadeng) keep their followers, more and more plastics are found with batteries. The effigies of the favorite cartoon characters of young people compete with traditional motifs (animals and plants, legendary or mythological scenes).

During the day, artistic performances are organized: lion dancing, dragon dancing, boat dancing, yangge dancing, tambourine dancing and walking on stilts. In the evening, we also admire lanterns, fireworks. In several cities, the government organizes such fires.

Playing riddles that are written on lanterns is a popular activity. If we found the word of the riddle, we can win a gift. This activity dates from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). This intellectual game is favored by the Chinese people from all social class.

It is traditional to eat a soup of Yuanxiao (or Tangyuan), eponymous dessert of the party. They are stuffed rice dumplings (mostly sweet) cooked in water, whose rounded shape symbolizes fullness, the family together and the satisfaction of needs.

In the Tibetan regions, it is one of the major ceremonies of the Mönlam and the yak butter lamps replace the Chinese red lanterns. Large gathering of believers where the Buddhas are paid homage by the offering of lamps, and admire the magnificent modeling of butter exposed: flowers, birds, animals and characters.

People come out in the street, which lights up with small lights, we dance and sing.



Many activities take place in Chengdu, which is lit up with a lot of light during this festival, especially at the Qingyang Temple for religious ceremonies.

Xiahe – Labrang

The 15th day: Ceremony of the Torma and yak butter sculptures. Of Indian origin, it is a cake-offering, specially prepared and dedicated to Buddha, Bodhisattva, and Dharma Protectors, during a ceremony of ritual offering. This practice culminated in the creation, at Kumbum Ta’ersi in Xining, of an art form unique in the world. Traditionally, these multicolored sculptures made of flour and butter were the subject of competition between the monks of the different colleges. Those of Labrang unveil spectacular giant hand-carved Tormas, around the third day of the Mönlam.

Kumbum Ta’ersi near Xining

The new Yak’s butter sculptures are unveiled and consecrated.