Today is the Lantern Festival day.
On every fifteenth of the first month of the lunar year, right after the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, people usher in the first full moon of the New Year with a traditional Chinese holiday, the Lantern Festival. Eating Yuanxiao (元宵, glutinous rice balls), and enjoying lanterns and the lion dance are traditional activities that people won’t want to miss.
There is an old saying that the “food is the paramount necessity of the people”. When talking about the Lantern Festival, the tradition of eating Yuanxiao can’t be missed. Yuanxiao is a type of dessert made of glutinous rice with or without filling. It can be filled with black sesame, bean paste, sugar, hawthorn, and so on. There are various ways to make Yuanxiao, including boiling, sautéing, deep-frying, and steaming. In addition, glutinous rice balls are called Yuanxiao in the North, while in the South, they are called Tangyuan (汤圆). There are slight differences in making Yuanxiao and Tangyuan. In Beijing, Yuanxiao is best characterized by its filling. People first prepare the dough with the filling and then put it in a machine. The machine gradually shapes the dough into a ball and it’s a little bit like making a snowball.
However, in the south, making Tangyuan is quite similar to making dumplings, because they are both molded and shaped by hand. Making good Tangyuan requires glutinous rice flour that is of high quality, because it is not easy to keep them fresh.
Besides eating, there is also playing of course. Popular traditional activities of the Lantern Festival include going to the fair, lighting lanterns, and guessing riddles. The fair is an open market held near a temple or in a park. There are traditional snacks to taste and various folk performances to enjoy. As the name suggests, lighting lanterns involves lighting and hanging various types of beautiful lanterns. Guessing riddles also originated from lighting lanterns. People write riddles on the lanterns and passersby can attempt to guess the answer. At the fair, the first person who successfully solves the riddle may receive a prize.
During the Lantern Festival, not only can you eat delicious Yuanxiao, but you can also enjoy the lion dances. The lion dance is a traditional Chinese dance. Dancers hide themselves in a lion costume, then roll up and down and move left and right to imitate a lion, which is very interesting to see.
This year the Lantern Festival meets Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February. It is said that in ancient times, the Lantern Festival played a similar role to “the Valentine” as well. In ancient times, young girls in China were usually not allowed to go outdoors, but the Lantern Festival was an exception. It was a great opportunity for single young people to meet each other.
Does the Lantern Festival sound more interesting now? Would you like to buy some Yuanxiao or Tangyuan in your local Chinese grocery stores?
(Attribute to the great course contents of chineseclass101.com)