The fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year is a special occasion, a festival within a festival. According to Lao She (老舍), this is the climax of the Chinese New Year. It is the brightest and the most beautiful festival.
In 1951, Lao She published a nice article about the Chinese New Year in Beijing,《北京的春节》, which I love to read. According to this article, Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节) lasted for five days, from the thirteenth of the first month to the seventeenth. That was a time when the bright moon shrined upon us, and also all kinds of fascinating and beautiful lanterns lit up the city!
Just a couple of lines, Lao She gives us a glittering world filled with dazzling lanterns, which were made with glass, ox horns, or gauze, and were painted with wonderful stories from A Dream of Red Mansions or The Water Margin. These lanterns were made by the famous shops and were really effective advertisements for them. Everyone came out to the crowded streets to see the lanterns, the shops, and the fireworks.
That was definitely before my time. The closest thing I had was decades ago, when I was small, I followed my family to see the beautiful lantern shows organised by the city. That was fantastic. The streets were crowded, and a huge variety of lanterns were so bright and beautiful. If one year, there was a light snow falling on the lanterns, people would say it was an auspicious sign, 正月十五雪打灯.
However, as time goes by, I hardly ever see any decent lanterns anymore, some simple big red lanterns here and there, or some small kiddie lanterns as toys. Those big red lanterns have become the symbol of what lanterns look like. That is the reason that, whenever I read an article introducing “Chinese Lantern Festival” to non-Chinese people and using only those big red lanterns to demonstrate, I increasingly think it is a mis-translation.
Nowadays, Yuanxiao Festival is just one day, the fifteenth day of the first month. It is Feb 26 this year. After this, the Chinese New Year is officially over. Although I don’t have any lantern shows to go to, fortunately, we still have sweet yuanxiao (元宵) to eat! Many people also call them tangyuan (汤圆). I have seen a huge variety of them available. In addition to the traditional snowy yuanxiao, there are also colourful yuanxiao, even crystal ones. I purchase yuanxiao from stores, but I know there are still families who will make their own yuanxiao for added festivity spirits.
This is not a time to count the calories. It’s the time for us to wrap up the Chinese New Year with some yummy sweet yuanxiao!
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