01(16): Lantern Festival – the Chinese Valentine’s Day

Nicholas Loh Avatar

As I hopped on to my computer to conduct a search on Google this morning, I noticed that today’s doodle featured lanterns. Did you notice that there is a pig in lieu of what would be the second letter ‘o’? Hahaha. In Singapore, people are busy with their work and school and oftentimes, if there isn’t a public holiday associated with a particular event or festival, it gets overlooked, and nobody knows about it.

According to the relevant Wikipedia article, the Lantern Festival, also known as the Spring Lantern Festival, is a Chinese festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It marks the final day of the traditional CNY celebrations. It is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Since the Chinese calendar is lunisolar (read my previous posts for more details), the day of the Lantern Festival would thus not fall on the same day from year to year in the Gregorian calendar. Likewise, the first day of CNY varies from year to year.

I know what you’re thinking: are there years where the Lantern Festival falls on February 14, Valentine’s Day?

Indeed, such years exist. However, they are uncommon. The last year in which the coincidence occured was 2014, and the coincidence occurs every 19 years. Hence, the next year where such a coincidence occurs again would be 2033.

Today, 19 February 2019, marks the day of the Lantern Festival. As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), it had become a festival with great significance. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns (simplified Chinese: 猜灯谜; traditional Chinese: 猜燈謎).

In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones. In modern times, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs. For example, lanterns are now often made in the shape of animals. The lanterns can symbolize the people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones, which they will let go of the next year. The lanterns are almost always red to symbolize good fortune.

It should not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival; which is sometimes also unhelpfully also known as the “Lantern Festival” in locations such as Singapore and Malaysia. The MAF celebrations are significant, particularly in my alma mater, Hwa Chong Institution, where it serves as one of the significant celebratory events of the year!

Have a great week!

Yours faithfully,
Nicholas Loh
19 February 2019

References & Further Reading
1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lantern_Festival
2. https://www.chinaodysseytours.com/news/lantern-festival-encounters-valentine-day.html

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