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Happy Lantern Festival

The 15th day of lunar January is the Chinese Lantern Festival. This usually falls in February in the solar calendar. On this day every family cooks sticky rice dumplings. They are called “yuánxiāo” in northern China and “tāngyuán” in southern China. The food is said to resemble a moon, since the 15th day of the month is the first night of the year to see the full moon. When there is a bright full moon hanging in the sky, thousands of colorful lanterns are hung out for people to enjoy. This activity is called “dēngmí”. People enjoy spending the time guessing the meaning of riddles (some are displayed on the red lanterns) on the last day of Spring Festival. In some places, people also enjoy fireworks.


Lantern Festival            Yuánxiāo jié             元宵节

Sticky rice                 nuòmǐ                  糯米

Sticky rice dumplings        tāngyuán                汤圆

Sticky rice dumplings        yuánxiāo                元宵

Lantern display             dēnghuì                 灯会

Lantern (portable light)       dēnglong                灯笼

Riddles written on lanterns    dēngmí                 灯谜

Guess riddles               cāi dēngmí              猜灯谜




  Besides entertainment and beautiful lanterns, another important part of the Lantern Festival,or Yuanxiao Festival is eating small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour. We call these balls Yuanxiao or Tangyuan. Obviously, they get the name from the festival itself. It is said that the custom of eating Yuanxiao originated during the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the fourth centuty, then became popular during the Tang and Song periods.

  The fillings inside the dumplings or Yuansiao are either sweet or salty. Sweet fillings are made of sugar, Walnuts(胡桃), sesame, osmanthus flowers(桂花), rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste(枣泥). A single ingredient or any combination can be used as the filling . The salty variety is filled with minced meat, vegetables or a mixture.

  The way to make Yuanxiao also varies between northern and southern China. The usual method followed in southern provinces is to shape the dough of rice flour into balls, make a hole, insert the filling, then close the hole and smooth out the dumpling by rolling it between your hands. In North China, sweet or nonmeat stuffing is the usual ingredient. The fillings are pressed into hardened cores, dipped lightly in water and rolled in a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour. A layer of the flour sticks to the filling, which is then again dipped in water and rolled a second time in the rice flour. And so it goes, like rolling a snowball, until the dumpling is the desired size.

  The custom of eating Yuanxiao dumplings remains. This tradition encourages both old and new stores to promote their Yuanxiao products. They all try their best to improve the taste and quality of the dumplings to attract more customers.