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The Origin of Lantern Festival

Feb 19, 2019

Lantern Festival originated in China. There are several theories about its origin:


Legend has it that Emperor Wudi of Han Dynasty sacrificed Taiyi at Ganquan Palace on the night of the first lunar month, which was regarded as the forerunner of the fifteenth lunar month sacrifice to the gods. The fifteenth day of the first lunar month is really a folk festival after the Han and Wei Dynasties. The introduction of Buddhist culture in the Eastern Han Dynasty has an important significance in promoting the formation of the custom of Lantern Festival. Originally referred to as "Shangyuan" is the day when peasants pray for a good harvest, and also the birth of Taoist heavenly officials. People hold torches in the fields to drive away insects and animals, hoping to reduce pests and pray for a good harvest. This day is the first full moon night, people also worship and appreciate the moon on this day, praying for a bumper harvest.


It is also said that Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty listened to the absurd saying that he was very devout to the Taiyi God. He built the Taiyi Temple in Ganquan Palace. He sacrificed Taiyi God on the 15th day of the first lunar month. From dusk on, he sacrificed Taiyi God with grand lights all night long, and meteors often passed through the Temple at night. From then on, a righteous ceremony was formed. The custom of coloring lanterns on the fifteenth day of the month.


Emperor Hanming believed in Buddhism and obeyed Cai Bing's advice. He ordered the fifteenth night of the first month to "light the lamp to watch Buddha" in the palace. From then on, people followed suit and worshipped Buddha with lights. In the late Eastern Han Dynasty, the Lantern Festival took shape as a festival.

The folklore of a province in Mainland China has it that Buddhism was introduced into China two thousand years ago. When the first moon was full, people could vaguely see seventeen gods dancing in the moonlight. One year, clouds covered the sky. People suddenly disappeared from the sky and were very panicked. So they set fire to illuminate the sky and search for the gods. Since then, although no gods have been seen. However, it has become a custom for everyone to light torches year after year to search for the gods. Later, ignition torches evolved into lanterns or campfires in some areas.


Modern research holds that Lantern Festival originates from the worship of fire and praying for a bumper harvest in the New Year. People ignite it to repel insects, snakes and beasts and offer sacrifices to the full moon. At the beginning, it was a torch. Later, it developed into the custom of lighting bonfires and hanging lanterns.

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