Zhong Yuan Jie (Lantern Festival) is celebrated on the first full moon of the New Year (the 15th day of the first lunar month). On this day, people display lanterns of all shapes and sizes, and red lanterns can be seen all around. Celebrations include fireworks, people walking on stilts, and folk dancing. In some areas, it is popular to hang riddles from the lanterns and prizes are given to the people who guess the correct answer.
The common snack during the lantern festival is called Tangyuan. It is a small dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flower. There are a variety of different fillings for the tangyuan, most are sweet or salty.
There are many legends of the origin of the lantern festival. One legend says that in ancient times, the Lantern Festival was a time to worship the god of Heaven. That god controlled the destiny of the human world and would decide when to inflict storms, drought, and famine upon the people. On this festival, the emperor could ask the god of Heaven for good health and prosperity for himself and his people.
Another legend tells the story of a girl named Yuan Xiao, who worked as a servant in the emperor’s palace. The servants were not allowed to leave the palace and though she had many friends, she was still homesick. She befriended a minister called Shuo Dong Fang and he thought of a plan to allow her to visit her family. Shou told the emperor that the Supreme Diety of Heaven had ordered the god of fire to burn the city of Chan’an on the 16th day of Lunar New Year.
He told the emperor that the only way to divert this was to flood the city streets with red lanterns. Shou asked that Yuan Xiao present dumplings to the God of Fire. On the 15th day of Lunar New Year, the palace maids paraded on the streets with lanterns. The emperor ordered the city of Chang’an to keep busy the entire night playing with lanterns and setting off firecrackers. Yuan Xiao took the dumplings that were intended as an offering and shared them with her family.