“The red color in the decoration of streets and houses, paper lanterns, fireworks and firecrackers, traditional veneration of elders and their kind, high technology and the most grandiose shows and performances,” – so began the article of our publication dedicated to one of the most important holidays in Asia, the Lunar New Year. Now I would like to write the following as introductory words: after all, today, after 15 days, it is time to tell about the lantern festival or Yuanxiaojie, which completes the series of traditions.
“As in agate flowers,
And more magnificent than splendor
You will not see it in your dreams,
Like a bright glaze
Niches glow inside,
Painted lanterns are swinging everywhere.”».
The history of the annual lunar calendar event is much shorter than that of Chunjie, although it originates about 180 years BC. However, during this time, the holiday has managed to acquire a lot of traditions and legends. There are at least three legends that tell about where the custom of lighting lanterns on the 15th day of the first month came from starting from the connection with Buddhist rituals and ending with salvation from the wrath of the gods with the help of cunning. And according to another legend, Yuanxiaojie comes from an ancient Torch Festival: it appeared among peasants who protected their crops with “fences” made of torches. Farmers believed that such protection would not only protect crops from animals and insects, but also make the land more fertile.
Anyway, the lantern festival has become a part of Chinese culture, and its description is found in such a literary masterpiece of national prose as “Journey to the West”.
“The Yuanxiao festival is magnificent!
Following the New Year’s Eve
On the fifteenth morning
He knocks on our doors.
On this day, for the first time, the wind
It blows with the sweetness of spring,
And the cool blue evening
All lit up with lights.
In a bustling city everywhere
Lanterns hang colored,
A peaceful chorus, a harmonious chorus
The songs flow until dawn.
And everywhere: along the main streets
And painted lanterns are flaming in the market squares
with a clear light” (Chapter 91).
The end of the Spring festival of Yuanxiaojie is one of the 15 days in the celebration of the New Year, and therefore its holding takes place with mandatory observance of customs, backed up by special symbolism. The most famous of them is admiring lanterns. Whatever the true history of the origin of this tradition, exhibitions of lanterns of various shapes and sizes are held all over China. However, the true “city of lanterns” is considered Zigong in Sichuan province.
“The Zigong Lantern Festival, based on tradition, continues to innovate, insists on combining traditional craftsmanship with modern science and technology, and combines traditional culture with modern aesthetics, creating a grandiose, magnificent, unique concept, exquisite production, colorful, brilliant and blurred general artistic characteristics, radiating a fascinating art charm», – the press service of the city informs about its iconic landmark. The Zigong authorities annually present such complex and bizarre installations of lanterns that they have been recognized as an object of intangible cultural heritage at the national level.
The “splendor of the Yuanxiao festival” is largely determined by the national dances performed on the fifteenth day after the New Year. The first of them is the Lion Dance. Dancers hiding under the costume of the beast necessarily take part in it, but the interpretation of the action itself differs in different regions of China. Therefore, in the north of the country, performers strive to convey the characteristics of the “king of beasts” – pride, but at the same time, grace, dexterity and courage. Acrobats can also take part in the performance, and there may be several lion figures – as a rule, a “lioness” is added to the first pair, and in special cases, cubs are also added. However, in the south, the dance is performed in order to scare away evil spirits. A mirror is also attached to the costume of a lion with disproportionately large eyes and a horn – so that the evil spirit is afraid of its own reflection.
A special place at the lantern festival is also given to yangge (пер. «Песня рисовых ростков») –(per. “The Song of rice sprouts”) – a mass dance, in the course of which completely theatrical plots are played out.
This national art has gone from peasant entertainment to one of the mechanisms for promoting communist ideology, but now it is primarily part of the lantern festival. There are many regional varieties of yangge: for example, in Shandong Province, the dance is performed with a drum, and in Beijing – on stilts. Combining many elements (staging, plot, tunes) it also became the basis for the formation of the Jilin Opera.
Finally, the lantern festival has its own national dish – yuanxiao. This is a special kind of rice flour dumplings, usually with salty or sweet filling. The first mention of these “balls” refers to the Tang and Song periods (VII – XIII centuries), and they became a festive treat around the tenth century. By the way, the technology of their preparation in the north and south of China is also different: southerners prefer to first form a ball of yuanxiao and already add stuffing to it, while their neighbors twist it into a prepared piece of dough. It is believed that such dumplings should be eaten surrounded by a family – then the year will pass happily for all its members.
Here is such a different holiday, but no less beloved in all of China!
The author of the article is Sofia Chernopyatova