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元宵节 The Lantern Festival

(2010-05-04 16:32:42)


分类: Chineseculture
元宵节 The Lantern Festival




The Lantern Festival is also known as the Shangyuan Festival, the Yuanxi Festival or the Yuanxiao Festival. And the celebration of the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month also has a very long history. The 15th day is the first night to see a full moon in a new year and every house is decorated with lanterns and streamers. As night falls, people go in crowds to admire the colorful and impressive lanterns in streets. The celebration leaves deep impressions on anyone who joins it.




The lantern Festival may originate from the fire worship by the ancient people. It is also said to have something to do with Buddhism and Taoism. According to the belief of the ancient people, when they sffered sacrifices to their ancestors, fire was lit to alleviate illness and ward off evil spirits. But the day of sacrifices was not exactly on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It was Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty(25AD---220AD) who first ordered his people, whether rich or poor, to display lighted lanterns during the Lantern Festival. This was Formalized by Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (581AD---618AD). As can be seen from the historical records about the nights of the Lantern Festival every year in the capital city---the magnificent lanterns displayed lit up the night sky and the great scene of performances were unparalleled---the Lantern Festival had developed into a great trend by that time. It was then promoted and enforced by later emperors and became increasingly popular. In the Tang Dynasty(618AD---907AD)due to the curfew, people could only go out at night during the three-day Lantern Festival. In the Song Dynasty(960AD---1279AD), the festival celebration lasted for five days. However, the grandest celebration took place in the Ming Dynasty(1368AD---1644AD), during which the festivities lasted for ten days from the eighth day to the seventeenth day of the first lunar month. A story in Fujian Annals says that once Cai Junmo, Prefect of Fuzhou, ordered every household to light seven lanterns on the lantern Festival, which was beyond the means of common people. So someone deliberately made a big lantern, with a sarcastic poem written on it:


A lantern for a rich family is like a drop in the ocean,


A lantern for a poor family makes the father and the son cry to each other;


Does the merry Prefect know about this?


He is still complaining that the music is not good enough. It seemed that Cai Junmo was touched by the poem and withdrew the order. Though it is difficult to prove what really happened at that time, this significantly mirrors the fact that customs were formed when people followed the examples of their superiors. The activities of the Lantern Festival started from the capital city, and then spread to many of the big cities and later to poor little villages. Obviously this is how customs came into being.


元宵节的内容很丰富,最引人注目的自然是灯彩。灯又有挂灯和迎灯两类。挂灯是家家户户挂灯,或是在街路上扎灯悬灯。人们出来逛街,一边观赏,一边品评,看谁的灯漂亮、华丽、别致。迎灯是人们手里提着灯在街上走,甚至还会形成浩浩荡荡的迎灯队伍。迎灯队伍里往往会有各种各样的民间歌舞表演,热闹非凡。在北方,一般称为闹灶火,花样之多,不胜枚举。耍龙灯,舞狮子,划旱船,踩高跷,扭秧歌,以及各种台阁、器乐演奏、戏曲人物扮演 、滑稽小丑、武术杂技,可以说是应有尽有。当然,人们又总是会把这一天夜晚的这种活动统称之为迎灯。如果说挂灯是一种造型艺术,那么迎灯就是传统的行为艺术了。


Among various activities during the Lantern Festival, colorful lanterns are the most eye-catching. There are two kinds of lanterns, namely hanging-lanterns and carrying-lanterns. Hanging lanterns decorate households and streets. While strolling around, people appreciate and comment on the magnificence and novelty of the lanterns. Carrying-lanterns are for people to carry along. These people sometimes even join together and merge into a parade, in which folk songs and dances are joyfully performed. In Northern China, such traditional festivities are called Shehuo, which involves all kinds of performances, such as the dragon-lantern dance, the lion-dance, the land-boat dance, the yangge-dance, walking on stilts, instrumental performances, the characters in Chinese operas shows, clown shows, martial arts and acrobatics. It is true that these activities are also generally referred to as Lantern-carrying, which can be considered as performance arts, compared to Lantern-hanging as plastic arts.




Hanging lanterns for viewing has gradually developed into an exhibition. Skillful lantern craftsmen from all over China are admired for their unusual talents and wisdom. The lanterns they make are famous for their local characteristics and unique artistic styles, such as Beijing’s Palace lantern, Tianjin’s Lotus Lantern, Suzhou and Hangzhou’s Flower Lantern, Guangzhou’s Lantern of Mandarin-ducks Playing Joyfully in the Lotus Flowers, and Northeastern China’s Ice Lantern. The Kongming Lantern, based on the fact that hot air is lighter than cool air, can even fly like today’s hot air balloons. Another lantern called the Running-horse Lantern can revolve by itself because of the heated air in it. At the same time people are fascinated by the shapes of the lanterns and the paintings on them.




Lantern riddles are riddles stuck on the surface of lanterns for people to guess while enjoying the lantern displays. It is generally believed that it was popular in the City of Lin’an (the present-day Hangzhou), the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty(1127AD-1279AD).




An interesting legend about lantern riddles goes that once there was a rich man who usually bullied and oppressed the poor. A young man called Wang Shao became very angry and decided to take revenge on him on the night of the Lantern Festival by presenting him with a lantern bearing this riddle: “It is silver white, with the head sharp and body slight./The hand of a scale hardly moves because its weight is too light./ On its are its eyes,/ and only clothing not men can it recognize.” The rich man was infuriated and ordered to take the lantern from Wang Shao, thinking that the riddle described him. Having taken his revenge, Wang Shao said,What makes you think that it describes you? You are too suspicious. This is only a riddle and the answer is a needle. Think about it.” Everyone laughed. The rich man could do nothing but stand by helplessly. The story spread quickly and it is now considered as the origin of lantern riddles. From then on ,people like to put riddles on the lanterns for others to guess as a form of entertainment.




Another legend says that the practice of hanging red lanterns has something to do with Huang Chao, leader of a peasant uprising. After he found that it was difficult to take the Huncheng City, Huang Chao entered the city in civilian disguise, trying to find out about the enemy. There he underwent a narrow escape with the help of an old man, who also told him about the strategies to take the city. In order to show his gratitude, Huang Chao told the old man to hang a lantern over has gate on the night of the Lantern Festival. Then the old man spread the news in the neighborhood and soon the poor people throughout the city began to make lanterns with red paper. Later, when Huang Chao’s army took Huncheng City on the night of the Lantern Festival, those who had hung the lanterns were spared. Hence, the custom of hanging lanterns during the lantern Festival came into being.




There are many other legends about the festival. Once there was a governor called Tian Deng, who did not allow people to say the word “deng” in order to avoid the coincidental association with his own name. People were not even allowed to write the word “deng(lantern)”as it had the same pronunciation with his given name “deng(ascend)”. Once before the Lantern Festival the local government put up a notice saying that “According to tradition, this prefecture will fang huo(set fire) for three days”, deliberately avoiding the phrase fang deng (display lanterns). The story soon became a subject of ridicule. People all complained that a governor might commit arson while the governed were not allowed to light a lantern, ironically referring to the imperious and despotic rulers.




In the lantern parade, dragon-lantern dancing, also known as the dragon-dance, is usually the most eye-catching.




The dragon, one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, is an important part of Chinese culture and tradition. Some unearthed cultural relics, which existed more than 5000 years ago, were decorated with sketches of dragons of a crude form. In ancient times, people thought that the dragon could make clouds and bring them rain and help them to avoid disasters and ward off illness. Therefore it was a symbol of prosperity and good luck. The dragon dances was frequently mentioned in the records of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) and has long been the Chinese custom during festivals ever since. Probably the earliest dragon---the earth dragon---could not dance at all, while the later grass dragon could. There are usually two kinds of dragon lanterns: a dragon with candle lights is called a lighted dragon, otherwise it is called a cloth dragon, or a colorful dragon. Though each has its merits, the lighted dragon, or a colorful dragon. Though each has its merits, the lighted dragon dance, mainly performed at night is a real magnificent scene on the Lantern Festival. There is another one called the bench dragon to the south of the Yangtze River. Each household provides one bench, which is just a wooden board, with a specially-made light on it and holes on each end. All the benches are connected by a small stick, which functions as a bolt, into a whole, then the dragon’s head and tail provided by the village are put on each end. With the dancer each holding up a stick in his section of the dragon, the bench dragon would begin to dance. A large village could make a bench dragon of hundreds of sections, which would wind through mountain roads and hover on squares, often a scene of excitement.




Without candle lights, the cloth dragon can display its highly skillful performance and extremely difficult tricks, which, to audiences, is so dazzling and intriguing.




As for dragon lanterns, there are many moving stories. People tell stories about the origins of the dragon lantern out of imagination. Though the stories might not be true, they can vividly reveal our understanding about history and attitudes towards life. For instance, it is said that once an old dragon was killed after being found to have brought rain to help people without the permission of the Jade Emperor. People made dragon lanterns in memory of him, and performed dragon dances every Lantern Festival. It is also said that a lantern craftsman, famous for the wonderful lanterns he made, was forced to make a lantern for the emperor. When he finished, the dragon suddenly came alive and killed the emperor, burned the imperial palace down and flew away with the lantern craftsman.




Eating tangyuan(glutinous rice balls stuffed with either sweet or meat fillings) is also a tradition in many places. As its other names yuanxiao or dengyuan suggest, it is an important part of the lantern Festival is over. They will start work on the farm or in far-away cities. The same is true with the Han people. Their activities like visiting friends and having dinner parties end on the day of the Lantern Festival. It is conventional for people to start work afterwards.


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