When Valentine’s Day Meets Lantern Festival

Coincidentally this year’s Valentine’s Day is also the Chinese Lantern Festival. In Chinese we call it “yuán xiāo jié”(元宵节). It is on the fifteenth of the first month in the lunar calendar. “yuán” stands for the first month of the year, and “xiāo” means “night”, thus it is “The Night of the First Month”. Why is this night so special? Because the moon is at its fullest for the first time in the new year. yuán xiāo jié is the first important festival after the Chinese New Year. People celebrate it as the continuation of the new year. And the name Lantern? That is because lantern is the symbol of this special day.

 

Though people in different regions celebrate this day somewhat differently, the display of lantern has always been a tradition. Lanterns stand for light and good wishes. On this full-moon night, people organize a night market, make various colourful lanterns, and write riddles on the lanterns. Visitors come to the market, eat some food, watch the street performances, and complete with one another solving the riddles on the lanterns.

 

This cosy night market is also a great place for young boys and girls to meet. In the old times, young girls could not go out of their homes easily. The Lantern Festival was a good occasion for them to get out of their homes, meet new people and have a fun and pleasant time in the market. Thus in a way, the Lantern Festival can be seen as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. There are many poems and plays written about this special day. The most well-known one would be: “Searching for a thousand times in the crowd, yet suddenly turning around, the person is by the waning lantern candle.”(zhòng lǐ xún tā qiān bǎi dù, mò rán huí shǒu, nà rén què zài dēng huǒ lán shān chù. 众里寻他千百度,蓦然回首,那人却在灯火阑珊处). It pictured vividly that sometimes someone or something we are looking so hard for, is right close by.

On this special day, the special food — yuán xiāo will be served. yuán xiāo is a type of sweet glutinous rice ball with various fillings, such as sesame, sweet bean paste, walnuts. Different types of fillings are preferred by people from different regions, nevertheless, the meaning these yuán xiāo stands for is the same: the sweet fillings are held together by the glutinous rice, just like being together with the family and having a sweet time.

What are you going to do this year on 14 February? Maybe you can eat some yuán xiāo with your valentine and share the sweetness; or if you are single, get a lantern and make a sweet wish. It might be that your special someone is already nearby waiting for you!

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