Children playing with colourful lanterns
Children playing with colorful lanterns








The 15th day of the first lunar month. It is celebrated as the Yuanxiao Festival (First Full Moon Festival, Lantern Festival )(元宵節).  As early as the Western Han Dynasty around 210 CE, the Yuanxiao Festival had become a significant festival. During the Yuanxiao Festival, people have fun at night carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns (猜燈謎). In 2023, the Yuanxiao Festival falls on Sunday, 5th February.

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 Yuanxiao Festival 




At the Lantern Festival last year,

the fair was lit like a bright day.

In the night, he met me here,

the moon topping the willow tree.

At the Lantern Festival this year,

the same lanterns, the same moon,

where is the man I met last year?

My spring sleeves are tear-soaked.

(translated by Qiu Xiaolong (裘小龍)




Tune: “Green Jade Table”
Title: Chinese Valentine’s Night  (First Full Moon of the Year) by Xin Qiji (1140 – 1207)

— Translated by Frank C Yue
When at Night blows the East Wind
Thousands of blooming lanterns are seen;
And up high in the Sky,
Loud fireworks burst again and again,
Brilliant sparks showering down like rain.
Fine steeds, carved carriages,
And perfume fill up the roads.
Amid the flute’s notes joyful
Liquid Moonlight e’erywhere a-flooding —
All through the Night fish, dragons a-dancing.
Hairpins shaped like a moth, snow willow,
Tiny gold threads to and fro swaying —
Sounds of laughter, soft talks receding
With faint fragrance to follow.
In the huge crowds, her I must find!
I search and search for countless times …
Suddenly —
Turning my head,
She’s there instead
Where the lights glow dimly.

Further readings: (元宵節) (朱淑真) (辛棄疾)

朱敏 (2006) 中國國家博物館  館藏文物研究叢書  繪畫卷  風俗畫 上海古籍出版社. ISBN 978-7-5325-4596-4/K.938

Qiu Xiaolong (2010) 100 Classic Chinese Poems 經典中國詩詞100首 East China Normal University Press. ISBN 978-7-5617-7366-6/I.651