China boasts many picturesque locations. Different places are characterised by diverse places of interest. In order to make these scenic locations better known to people and publicize the country’s culture in general, the governments in different regions organise festivals which utilize local tourist resorts. Because these feasts are closely linked with the famous local scenic places and are full of amusements and activities which give visitors an insight into local customs in a relaxed atmosphere, they are known as tourist festivals.
The Lantern Festival also known as Chap Goh Mei in China is a festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunisolar year in the lunar calendar marking the last day of the lunar New Year celebration. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns.
It officially ends the Chinese New Year celebrations.
It is not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival; which is sometimes also known as the “Lantern Festival” in locations such as Singapore and Malaysia.
In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones. In modern times, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs. For example, lanterns are now often made in the shape of animals. The lanterns can symbolize the people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones, which they will let go of the next year. The lanterns are almost always red to symbolise good fortune.
The first month of the lunar calendar is called the yuan month, and in olden times night was called xiao in Mandarin. Therefore, the day is called Yuan Xiao Festival in China. The fifteenth day is the first full moon of that lunar year.
According to East Asian tradition, at the beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon in the sky, there should be thousands of colourful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. At this time, people will try to solve puzzles on lanterns, eat glutinous rice balls named after the festival, yuanxiao (also known as tangyuan) and enjoy a family reunion.
There are many different beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival. However, it is likely to have had something to do with celebrating and cultivating positive relationships between people, families, nature and the higher beings that were believed to be responsible for bringing or returning the light each year.
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 back and call and he decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine or pestilence upon human beings. Beginning with Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China, who named China, all the emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favourable weather and good health to him and his people.
Originating in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties, it has been enjoyed by the people in China and those across the world. Thousands of lanterns, including hundreds of comparatively large ones and thousands of art ones, are exhibited during the festival. Among all the beautiful lanterns, the ‘dragons’ made of porcelain tableware and ‘peacocks’ made of glass drug bottles, are the most distinctive ones. Some of the lanterns are created delicately with bamboo strips and thin silk and are a delight for visitors’ eyes. All the lanterns are well painted and come in a variety of shapes and, with the addition of lights, sound and movement matched to different lanterns, they become alive and take on a life of their own.
Zigong is the originator of the Chinese Lantern Festival, which has been copied in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. As one of the Historical and Cultural Cities of China, Zigong is called “Lantern Town in the South Kingdom.” Zigong Lantern Festival has been held for more than 1,000 years. Zigong Lantern Festival is one of the most famous lantern showcases in China, embodying the lantern culture. In recent years, although the annual lantern show forces the local residents endure unpredictable and extended blackouts during China’s Spring Festival, the lantern festival is a boon for tourism in the remote but tranquil city and generates large revenues for the local government. The pattern of Lantern Show, a paradigm of China’s festival economy, has been copied throughout China, which dilutes the uniqueness of Zigong’s original version. As a measure to promote the city, the lantern show has already been brought to many cities in mainland China and even southeast Asia throughout of the years.
Since China is on a Lunar calendar – known in the west as the Chinese calendar, Spring Festival – which is also known as Chinese New Year will vary each year on a Gregorian calendar – but is roughly between January 16 and February 19 each year – depending on which of the Twelve earthly branches it is currently.
The Lantern Festival has been going on since the Tang dynasty and gets more elaborate each year and is certainly a sight to behold. The numerous colourful lanterns turn night into day.