It’s the fifteenth of the first month of the Chinese New Year today –
元宵节 yuán xiāo jié
and it marks the end of the 15 day new year period. As the new year is heralded by the second new moon after the winter solstice, Yuan xiao jie is celebrated on the full moon.
Yuan xiao jie is often known as Lantern Festival, as one of the ways of celebrating is to parade lanterns in the full moon – bringing bright lights to the sky after the darkness of winter.
Just like New Years Eve itself, however, the emphasis is on being with family – people gather together and eat yuan xiao – also called 汤圆 tāngtuán means sticky rice ball) – delicious circular pastries to represent the full moon. Black sesame paste or red bean paste are some of the sweet fillings, whilst savoury fillings are stuffed with prawns and shrimp.
The name yuan xiao stems from the ancient Chinese lunar calander, when 元 Yuan means first, or the first month of the year and 宵 xiao is an old word meaning night –- so the phrase actually means the night of the first full moon in the first month of the new year.
It’s also customary to place ‘riddles’ written on red bits of paper in public places. In apartment complexes, schools, shopping centres and workplaces, you can see red strips of paper hanging from the ceiling or trees, filled with riddles. The riddles are not of the ridiculously silly type that frequent the inside of bonbons at Christmas, but rather they prompt people to think of common idioms or sayings often with historical and cultural references – making them a celebration of Chinese culture itself.
After walking through a virtual forest of red paper strips, asking others to help me guess the answer to the riddles during the day, we went out for and a hearty meal. Families gathered as children made painted lanterns in the mall.
Walking home, the night was punctuated by a cacophony of light and sound.On the ground a sea of sparkers burst into the crisp night air, firecrackers explode, and up in the air fireworks burst like flowers to greet the moon.
Chinese traditions are celebrated all over the world – even Mona Lisa is trying the delicious 汤圆 tāngtuán!