The Lantern Festival (also known as the Yuanxiao Festival or Shangyuan Festival in China; Chap Goh Meh Festival in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore; Yuen Siu Festival in Hong Kong, and “Tết Thượng Nguyên” or “Tết Nguyên Tiêu” in Vietnam; corresponding Japanese event Koshōgatsu); is a festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunisolar year in the Chinese calendar, the last day of the lunisolar Chinese New Year celebration. 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. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns (simplified Chinese: 猜灯谜; traditional Chinese: 猜燈謎; pinyin: cāidēngmí). It officially ends the Chinese New Year celebrations.
In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones; in modern times, lanterns have been being embellished with many complex designs. For example, lanterns are now often made in shapes of animals. The lanterns can symbolize the people letting go of their past selves and getting a new one, which they will let go of the next year.
Throughout the history of China, lanterns have been symbols of hope, rejuvenation, and celebration. Lanterns are integral to the most mundane or important rituals of life; in support of communication with the god; for ceremonial purposes; as symbols; and in festivals.
The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, usually in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), it had become a festival with great significance.
This day’s important activity is watching lanterns. Throughout the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), Buddhism flourished in China. One emperor heard that Buddhist monks would watch sarira, or remains from the cremation of Buddha‘s body, and light lanterns to worship Buddha on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, so he ordered to light lanterns in the imperial palace and temples to show respect to Buddha on this day. Later, the Buddhist rite developed into a grand festival among common people and its influence expanded from the Central Plains to the whole of China.
Today, the lantern festival is still held each year around the country. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, attracting countless visitors. Children will hold self-made or bought lanterns to stroll with on the streets, extremely excited.
Commemorating its 25th year of work on the Flora of China project, in 2012 the Garden hosted Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night, a unique opportunity to witness a spectacle rarely staged outside Asia.