The Lantern Festival (yuan hsiao) or the Feast of the First Full Moon, falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, bringing the New Year celebrations
to a fitting conclusion.
The lanterns used to be torches to help people see the heavenly spirits as they flew past in the light of the first full moon. In the old days the houses
of the wealthy were decorated as brilliantly as possible with lanterns, firecrackers were set off, and every variety of fireworks displayed. As with most of China’s traditional festivals, the usual practice on the
evening of the 15th was for a family to offer prayers to specific deities and then hold a great feast amidst revelry and much drinking.
But the old customs are dying out. Today the Lantern Festival has become a carnival with puppet shows, operas and lion or dragon-dancing. In their
earliest form Lion and Dragon dances were a demon-expelling ritual. For the Lantern Festival, the mythical animals appear, ingeniously designed and gorgeously painted, a Disney-land fantasia for children and adults
alike. With one man manipulating the massive wooden head and several others the body and hindquarters, the lions and dragons, blue and yellow and golden, would dance, roll, and leap about in pursuit of elusive
‘pearls’, displaying remarkable acrobatic agility and energy with eye-balls rolling, tongues flopping, jaws clacking and bells tinkling. In other dances, the dragon frolics with a lion to the noisy clamour of gongs,
drums and firecrackers. Many families invite clubs to perform the lion or dragon dances on their premises, thus adding a lot of colour and excitement to the neighbourhood.
The special food of the Lantern Festival is ‘yuan hsiao’, a small round dumpling made \of glutinous rice with a filling that is usually sweet but which
may also be salty. The roundness of the ‘yuan hsiao’ signifies the full moon. The full moon symbolizes the complete circle of the family. Each member of the family is a part of that circle, living together with
other members in peace and in ha rmo fly.