Chinese Lantern Festival Traditions

Chinese Lantern Festival 2020 Traditions

By: Karen Le


Chinese people all over the world will celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival on Saturday, February 8, 2020, but nowhere is that celebration larger than in Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province

Around 700,000 gathered there last year to witness the famous spectacle of handcrafted coloured lanterns at the Confucius Temple and other sites along the scenic and historic Qinhuai River.

The lantern festival will be their last chance to enjoy for a while, because the Chinese Lantern Festival marks the end of nearly 2 weeks of celebrations that began with the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) on January 25. 

Craftsman spend all year creating intricate lantern designs of floating lotuses, flying dragons, and spunky lions, all favourites among Chinese for their auspicious and enchanting meanings. 

Visitors to the Nanjing Qinhuai Lantern Festival will delight in choosing a special lantern for the occasion. More lights will mean an even bigger Chinese Lantern Festival in 2020. 

If you live in Toronto, Canada, you can even participate in a Toronto-Qinhuai copycat festival complete with lantern lighting, lion dance, arts, performances, Chinese traditional snacks, and prizes.

By now you may be wondering, why is the Chinese Lantern Festival important to Chinese? And what exactly does the Chinese Lantern Festival represent? 

Keep reading to learn the Chinese Lantern Festival traditions, and how you can join in the fun.   

What Does the Chinese Lantern Festival Represent?

The origins of the Chinese Lantern Festival trace back over 2,000 years, and there are many legends about how this holiday came to be, but they all revolve around worship. 

The most popular story is from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), that the Lantern Festival celebrates the birthday of the Daoist god of fortune, Tianguan

Another story tells that on the 15th day of the first lunar month, spirits move around under the light of the full moon, and by lighting lanterns, people help illuminate the spirits’ way.

Regardless of how the Chinese Lantern Festival came to be, the sea of brightly lit lanterns is a romantic scene, and truly a sight to see. 

Lanterns at Chinese Lantern Festival

As its name suggests, lighting and appreciating lanterns is the main activity of the festival. 

When the Chinese Lantern Festival arrives, people hang lanterns everywhere, including households, shopping malls, parks, and in the streets. Children may also hold small lanterns while walking the streets during the evening.

The lanterns come in various shapes and sizes. There are small globe-shaped lanterns that fit in your palm, and some can be as large as a parade float! 

Some lanterns have more symbolic designs, such as the sky lantern. These lanterns represent hope, success, and happiness. In the past, people used the lanterns to signify peace after war. Now they are commonly used for good wishes.

Whether they were round, long, or even animal-shaped, the lanterns symbolize good fortune.

Learn more about the types of lanterns here.

Lantern Messages and Riddles

At some point in the history of the Chinese Lantern Festival, some people started writing messages on the lanterns before lighting them. 

Those who were more clever wrote riddles, and it soon turned into a popular game. Anyone who guessed the correct answer received a prize.

These riddles slowly turned into poetry and wishes as well. According to many love stories, you could catch the attention of your crush through this game!

Festive Lion Dances and Dragon Dances

Lion and dragon dances from the Chinese New Year celebrations continue into the Chinese Lantern Festival.

Lions represent power, superiority, and wisdom in traditional Chinese culture. People perform the lion dance during the Chinese Lantern Festival to bring good fortune for the upcoming year and to chase away evil spirits. 

The dragon dance symbolizes the dragon in Chinese culture, but it also brings good luck. A common belief is that the longer the dragon (the more people involved), the more luck the dance will bring.

Read more details about these dances in our “How Chinese New Year is Celebrated” article.

Traditional Lantern Festival Food: Tang Yuan

Eating tangyuan is an important custom during the Chinese Lantern Festival. 

Tangyuan are ball-shaped dessert dumplings made of glutinous rice flour stuffed with a variety of fillings. 

The fillings include white sugar, brown sugar, sesame seed, peanuts, walnuts, rose petals, bean paste, and jujube paste, or a combination of ingredients. 

The name ‘tangyuan’ sounds like the Chinese word that means “reunion.”  Holidays are always a time for family and friends, and Chinese people believe that the round shape of the balls symbolizes wholeness and togetherness.

Therefore, eating tangyuan during the Chinese Lantern Festival is a way for Chinese people to express their best wishes for their family and their future lives.

See more lucky foods during the Chinese New Year.

Best Places to See Lanterns in Toronto

These holiday celebrations are bigger in Asia, but you still have a chance to participate! 

Toronto, and the Greater Toronto Area, have many opportunities to celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival in 2020. 

Check out the links below for celebrations you can join in this year! 

Happy Chinese New Year and best wishes!


Dragon City Mall 2020 Lunar New Year Celebration

LunarFest in Markham

Toronto-Qinhuai Lantern Festival


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