Lantern Festival


Lantern Festival
Also known as the Festival of First Origin and the First Moon Festival, the celebration of the first full moon of the Chinese New Year, on the fifteenth day of the first month, is one of the most ancient observances in the Chinese ritual calendar. Scholars have linked its origins to ancient fire worship, fertility rites, veneration of the primordial forces of Daoism, and the introduction of Buddhism, among other things. The date has long been marked by displays of lanterns, lion and dragon dances, competitive riddle-telling and eating of special foods. Today, the festival combines elements of religious, civic and political rituals and, of course, commercialization. In rural areas, the festival is often the highlight of the New Year Festival, with parades of lanterns that mark the reincorporation of households into their community. There is considerable regional variation; one distinctive local practice is found in parts of north China, where villagers construct a maze of lanterns, and simultaneously perform rituals ranging from simple secular dancing to elaborate Daoist liturgies (see Jiao).
The festival is also promoted as a tourist event, in Harbin, for example, where it coincides with exhibitions of ice sculpture. Some legends associated with the festival have romantic themes, and Chinese businesses have sought to present it as a kind of indigenous version of Valentine’s Day. The festival also has a political component, with government officials using it as an opportunity to meet with the public. For example, in recent years senior national leaders have joined leading intellectuals for a ‘sing-along’ in the Great Hall of the People. With its multiple levels of meaning encompassed within a single calendrical event, the Lantern Festival provides a rich example of the reinvention and transformation of tradition in contemporary Chinese popular culture.
Johnson, David (2002). ‘A “Lantern Festival” Ritual in Southwest Shanxi’. In Daniel Overmyer with Shin-yi Chao (eds), Ethnography in China Today. Taipei: Yuan-Liou Publishing, 287–95.
MICHAEL SZONYI

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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