How to celebrate the Lantern Festival!

In 2020, the Lantern Festival (Yuánxiāo jié 元宵节) falls on February 8th, the fifteenth and final day of Spring Festival. Although it’s not a public holiday, it is still widely celebrated, especially in southern China and amongst the diaspora.

What’s this holiday all about and how can you celebrate it? Read on to find out!

Updated: Due to the ongoing Coronavirus situation, we have had to postpone our celebration workshop until a later date. This article will be updated as soon as a new date has been set.

The origins of the lantern festival are unclear.  One legend is that in the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) Buddhism had just recently arrived in China. On the 15th day of the first lunar month, the monks in Buddhist temples lit many lanterns as they observed Uposatha, a day for meditation and following the Buddha’s teachings more closely than otherwise. Emperor Ming, in an effort to popularise Buddhism, ordered that all households, including the imperial palace, should light lanterns. Another story is that, after a period of great political upheaval, Emperor Wen, one of China’s most benevolent emperors, designated the 15th day of the first lunar month as a day to celebrate peace.

Combined with other tales and traditions, these gradually developed into a folk custom and became incorporated into the Spring Festival celebrations.


On the lantern festival, people traditionally lit lanterns, went to public lantern displays, solved riddles and ate tangyuan. There were also performances from acrobats, dragon and lion dancers and musicians. The festival was quite noisy and wild, as suggested by an ancient name for it: 闹元宵(nào yuán xiāo) – wild/exciting lantern festival!

Solving riddles livened up lantern displays with intellectual challenges. Chinese riddles are difficult to translate as they usually depend on puns, historical figures, characters, idioms or places to make sense. But here’s a simple example: These tall, thin brothers go everywhere and do everything together, and always avoid soup. Who are they? (Answer below.)

On this evening, women – who traditionally had to stay at home – were allowed to take part in the festivities with the men. According to legend, this lead to romantic encounters on the evening, so it is sometimes called China’s ‘true Valentine’s Day’ (as opposed to the Qixi Festival on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month).

Tangyuan (Tāngyuán 汤圆) are round dumplings made of glutinous rice flour with sweet fillings, traditionally sesame paste. The name sounds similar to the word for ‘reunion’ (团圆—tuán yuan).  Their round shape represents the full moon (since the 15th day falls on the first full moon of the new year); also unity and the coming together of the family at this time of year, as well as hope for togetherness in the new year. 

In some parts of China they are known as yuanxiao, hence the Chinese name of the festival (Yuánxiāo jié 元宵节). Some people still make their own at home, filled with red bean or sesame paste, but they are now widely available in supermarkets with all manner of fillings including kiwi, orange and chocolate!

Join us Sunday February 8th at the CK Culture Centre for an afternoon of fun and friendship as we celebrate the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of Spring Festival!

At this event, you can learn more about Lantern Festival customs and language, paint paper lanterns, solve riddles, make tangyuan (sweet dumplings) and enjoy a meal together!

Transportation from Sanlitun, all materials, snacks, tea and dinner, and English-speaking hosts are all included! Just 488RMB, or bring a friend and pay just 888RMB, saving 88RMB!

Lantern Festival Celebration with Cultural Keys

Date: Saturday February 8th 2020
Location: CK Culture Centre – Songzhuang, Tongzhou
Pickup: 2pm at Tuanjiehu Subway Station
Drop off: 9pm at Tuanjiehu Subway Station
Places: Limited to 8 people
Price: 488RMB per person / 888RMB for 2 people
Payment: Prepayment via WeChat, Alipay or bank transfer.

If you have any questions, or would like to confirm your place, please email us at [email protected] Alternatively, add AJDonnelly on WeChat.

We look forward to having you join us for this exciting cultural event!

Please note:

– with the developing novel coronavirus situation, it may be necessary to cancel the event. If it becomes necessary to do so, all registered participants will be informed no later than 48 hours in advance.
– we do have dogs and burn incense on the premises, so if you are allergic to either, this event might not be suitable for you.
– once booked, we are unable to offer refunds. If you are unable to join us, please consider finding someone to replace you, so your place doesn’t go to waste
– a minimum of 5 people are required for this event to go ahead. If fewer than that sign up, you will be issued a full refund.
– our schedule is arranged for the maximum benefit of both our teachers and participants. If you are late for pickup, our driver will unfortunately not be able to wait for you.


PS. The answer to the riddle is… chopsticks!

How will you be celebrating the Lantern Festival? Let us know in the comments on Facebook or Twitter. For more information about anything listed here, please contact us or use the form below to let us know your specific requirements. We look forward to hearing from you!

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    Are you interested in learning more about the traditional culture of China, and perhaps experiencing it for yourself?  Since 2013, Cultural Keys Chinese Culture Centre has been helping people doing exactly that.

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