The Lantern Festival (元宵節)

Children playing with colourful lanterns
Children playing with colorful lanterns


The 15th day of the first lunar month is celebrated as the Lantern Festival (元宵節). In 2017, it falls on 12 February (Sunday). As early as the Western Han Dynasty around 210 CE, the Lantern Festival had become a significant festival. During the Lantern Festival, people have fun at night carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns (猜燈謎).

In the ancient days, young adults celebrated in the hope of finding loved ones. Matchmakers were busily pairing couples. In more recent times, it is touted as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Lanterns are used for decorations and they are always red in colour to symbolize good fortune.  They can also be made in the shape of animals.

The following images show traditional lanterns in different shapes and designs in a long scroll painting circa 1486 CE (明宪宗元宵行樂圖卷).

elephant lantern
elephant lantern


crab lantern, rabbit lantern
crab lantern, rabbit lantern


toad lantern, figure lantern
figure lantern and toad lantern


a traditional lantern
traditional lantern



People eat sweet glutinous rice balls, yuanxiao (元宵) also known as tāngyuán (湯圓), and enjoy a family reunion.


Famous Chinese poems related to the Lantern Festival













Acknowledgements :

The lanterns images come from 中國國家博物館  館藏文物研究叢書  繪畫卷  風俗畫 (2006)


Further readings: (元宵節) (朱淑真) (辛棄疾) (唐寅)