What is the origin of the Chinese Lantern Festival? PDF Print E-mail


Lantern23The Chinese Lantern Festival is on the 15th day of the 1st Chinese lunar month.  More than 2,000 years ago, Emperor Wendi (203BC-157BC) of the Western Han Dynasty had already set this day as Yuanxiao Festival, to greet the first full moon of the year.  Later, Emperor Wudi (156BC-87BC) fixed the ceremonies to worship God Taiyi, who was in charge of the whole universe, on the same day.  Yuanxiao has been regarded as one of the most important festivals in China from then on.


The custom of enjoying lanterns during Yuanxiao, however, began from the Emperor Mingdi (28-75) period, Eastern Han Dynasty.  Buddhist monks admired Buddha’s relics left after his cremation, and lit lights to salute Buddha’s image on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month.  As an advocator of Buddhism, Mingdi ordered his subjects to imitate this Buddhist tradition and hang lanterns.  Lantern fairs gradually took shape which is why nowadays Yuanxiao is also known as the Chinese Lantern Festival.


[To read the legend about Emperor Mingdi and Buddhism, click here.]


Some people link this festival to Taoist legends: Yuanxiao happens to be the birthday of Tianguan, the Taoist god who is responsible for good fortune; he visits the Earth on this day every year, to bestow fortunes on people.  Therefore, followers prepare various activities to please him, as they believe Tianguan likes all kinds of entertainment.