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  • Writer's picture Даосская Ассоциация России

Lantern Festival, Shangyuan Festival, birthday of the Heavenly Official.

Cheng Bohan


"Yuan Xiao Festival, also known as Lantern Festival, is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar calendar正月十五, marking the first full moon of the lunar new year. It symbolizes the arrival of spring and is also the birthday of the Heavenly Official Taiyi Fushen太乙福神(An old name for Heavenly Official天官), hence it is also known as Shang Yuan Festival. Traditional customs during this festival include eating yuanxiao (sweet dumplings), admiring lanterns, and solving lantern riddles as games, all to express good wishes and congratulations.


This day serves as the conclusion of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, being the first major festival after the Spring Festival holiday. Shang Yuan Festival commemorates the birth of the Heavenly Official, who governs heavenly affairs. On this day, the Heavenly Official bestows blessings upon the people who offer lanterns in his honor.

Historically, tradition of lantern-viewing provided an opportunity for young men and women to meet and socialize, hence the Lantern Festival is sometimes referred to as "Chinese Valentine's Day" in Southeast Asia.


The origin of the Lantern Festival can be traced back to the Qin and Han Dynasties, with records of "lighting lanterns and offering sacrifices to the Daoist Heavenly Official on the fifteenth day of the first month." Originally named "Shang Yuan,上元" it was a day for farmers to pray for a good harvest and also a celebration of the birth of the Daoist deity. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, the Lantern Festival gradually took shape as a formal holiday.


In the early years of the Sui Dynasty, the Lantern Festival was fully established. During the Tang Dynasty, lantern-viewing was highly popular, with colorful lanterns hung everywhere in the capital and towns. Magnificent lantern wheels, trees, and columns were crafted, creating a lively and bustling atmosphere.


The Song Dynasty further enriched the Lantern Festival with diverse and elaborate lantern displays that lasted for five days. Lantern riddles also became popular during this time, with various puzzles written on slips of paper and attached to lanterns, rewarding those who guessed correctly. This entertaining and educational activity gained widespread popularity.



Eating Yuanxiao symbolizes reunion and harmony, signifying the hope for a better life for families.

Children who have red pocket lucky money can open and use their money after this day.

'Walking away from illnesses' involves people walking around bridges or other landmarks to ward off diseases and pray for good health. This tradition is mainly observed in the northern regions of China.

Women believe that going out to admire the moon on the night of Shang Yuan Festival can increase fertility. Similarly, young girls believe that looking at their reflections in wells on this night can enhance their beauty. Men believe that staying up late on the Lantern Festival night can prolong their lives, and children staying up late can bring blessings to their parents.

On the day of Shang Yuan Festival, people pray to the Heavenly Official for blessings. Offerings include fruits and red envelopes containing auspicious amounts of money (168, 888, or 1800 yuan,lucky numbers in Chinese tradition) placed on the altar during the ceremony. These red envelopes are then kept for good luck and prosperity throughout the year.

Watching the moon on the fifteenth day of the lunar month is believed to bring good fortune and enhance romantic relationships. It is said that the Moon Deity acts as a matchmaker on this day.

Keeping all the lights in the house on during the Lantern Festival signifies a bright and prosperous year ahead.

Some taboos to observe during the Lantern Festival include avoiding washing hair or cutting hair, as it may wash away one's wealth, ensuring the rice jar or food stocks is never empty to avoid financial loss, refraining from using foul language to avoid bad luck, avoiding wearing white or black clothes, and avoiding borrowing money to prevent financial difficulties.

Observing these customs and taboos during the Lantern Festival is believed to bring good luck, happiness, and prosperity to individuals and their families."


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