Full moon fever on the Lantern Festival

Caishen Lantern at the Taipei Lantern Festival 2004
The brightest moon of the new year welcomes a festival of light – the Lantern Festival, also the official end to Chinese New Year.

Thought the new year was over after Chinese New Year’s Eve? Think again. In China, celebrating the new year is not just a matter of swinging around a few firecrackers and enjoying a great meal. In the 15 days following Chinese New Year, nearly every day has its own customs and traditions. We won’t get into all of that, in the interest of space. But it all culminates on the 15th day of the new year which is — you guessed it — the Lantern Festival.

As you can see above, part of the lantern festival is about…well…getting out to enjoy these giant lanterns. To the uninitiated, lanterns might just seem like large glorified light-up floats. Unlike floats, lanterns just stay in one place — while people move around to have a look. Usually the lanterns draw from traditional Chinese folklore and, especially, the Chinese zodiac. Since this is the year of the pig, you can bet that, across the world, hundreds of thousands of people are gawking at glowing larger-than-life representations of these oinkers. Meanwhile, the kids often carry around little lanterns — either made by themselves or bought from a seller — as a part of the celebration.

Given the full moon, it’s not surprising then that “roundness” is an inextricable aspect of the holiday. Tang yuan (汤圆), the traditional snack for Chinese Lantern Festival, are round balls of glutinous rice flour filled with sweet or savory paste. One time I celebrated the holiday with a friend who went out of her way to make a meal of nothing but round foods — including the tang yuan. And actually, the word describing the very act of family togetherness encouraged for the holiday — tuan yuan (团圆)– has a character in it meaning “round”.
It is also a time for auspiciousness and good fortune — celebrating the holiday is a part of that. And there are certain traditions that carry this idea forward. For example, some people will put a “lucky” filling in certain tang yuan, such as a strawberry. If you happen to get this filling in your tang yuan, you can expect good things to come in the new year.

Want to connect with Chinese people over this holiday? If you’re looking for a terrific symbol of Chinese New Year, you’ve found one with the lanterns. Think about how you might integrate them into your marketing and communications ideas. Consider also the idea of roundness surrounding the holiday, and use it to your advantage — whether in your marketing materials or your business dealings. For example, impress your guests with a meal of only circular foods! But whatever you do, make it auspicious.

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