The Lantern Festival in China, known as the Shangyuan Festival, is a traditional Chinese Festival celebrated every 15th of the month in the Chinese Lunar calendar. It is said that the origins of this festival can be traced back as early as the Han Dynasty. Legend has it that peasants used torches to drive away pests and other vermin that were harming their crops. The night of the first full moon marks the start of the Chinese Lunar year. This is a very popular festival that is also celebrated in Chinese communities around the world.
The festivities always feature the ubiquitous Dragon and Lion Dance to add color as well as good fortune to the festivities as well as brilliant and breathtaking fireworks displays light up the sky to ward off evil spirits (Shi 2003). Colorful lanterns of all sizes, designs and shapes are hung up and lit everywhere not only to illuminate the night but also to recreate imaginatively the light and warmth of spring. They also call this sometimes Children’s Festival since the lantern festival is also meant to invite and welcome the newborn into this world.
It is also this time when young and old alike eat yuanxiao (glutinous rice balls) and try to answer puzzles attached to the lanterns which is serve to guide ancestor’s spirits home for the family reunion and back to the beyond when it is over. (ChinaVoc, 2007). Besides the Dragon Dance, other dances are featured that will illustrate a legend associated with the particular symbolic animal of the new year. The old year is burned in the night is a grand finale, just after the traditional New Year Presidential address (in China) Dozens of lantern-shaped hot air balloons are then launched from the city’s public squares into the night sky.
Lantern Festivals in Japan The lantern festivals in Japan happen more than once a year, depending on the region or own. This is held normally every spring or fall and are diverse; commonly, the place where they would hold the celebration is either in the Buddhist Temple or Shinto Shrine or other places of worship in the immediate vicinity. The history behind these festivals is in accordance to local stories relating to the past or the traditions and beliefs. The purpose of this celebration in Japan is to honor Buddha, give thanks in order to take away all the bad luck and have prosperity for the whole year.
Some are meant to dispel evil, while others perform some rituals for their ancestor’s as a simple reflection. One famous example of the lantern festivals in Japan is the O-Bon festival observed every 13th or 15th of July. It is essentially a Buddhist ceremony where the living receives the spirits of their long-departed ancestors and this is capped by lighting lanterns and floating them on a river or stream to light a path and serve as a beacon in sending off their ancestors (Japan National Tourism Organization 2010).
Another lantern festival held in Japan is called Setsubun Mantoro and is held at the ancient capital of Nara where the Kasuga Taisha shrine houses 3,000 lanterns that are lit twice a year. These lanterns come in various shapes and sizes and are displayed in any preferred form whether suspended overhead or in stone vessels. People would come here and write their wishes on strips of paper and attached to the lanterns (Japan National Tourism Organization 2010). Lantern Festival in Korea
In Seoul, Korea, the Lotus Lantern Festival is the most attractive festival held in the Jongno area is Seoul’s landmark traditional festival. The origin of the lotus lantern festival started during the year of historical Buddha Sakyamuni, the birth of Buddha. Before the festival, people have already exhibited some of the traditional lanterns at Bongeun-sa temple. The time-honored festival which originated from an existing tradition of Gwandeongnori has been kept alive during throughout the entire 600-year history of Seoul.
The festival normally starts every April 8th or the first full moon in the lunar calendar which is similar to the Chinese. Throughout the duration of the event, some local and foreign visitors can explore the enigmatic and intriguing wonders of Korean Buddhist Culture and witness a variety of events they will find appealing and amazing (GDog 2007). This is a presentation of regional cultural festival in Seoul where everyone enjoys making colorful lanterns.
The beginning of the ceremony of the traditional parade starts at the nearby Dongdaemun stadium with the procession of lanterns passing along Jongno Street. According to the traditional beliefs, before the Eight Day of the Fourth Moon, many children would cut strips of different colored paper for making, designing and creating lanterns, hang them from poles as banners. They would bring these to the parade around the capital city while gathering some donations such as rice and money from believers and use it as capital to buy some materials to make the lanterns for Buddha’s Birthday.
During the Lotus Lantern Festival, numerous people go to temple, and give various offerings and on that night, each household would light as many lanterns as the number of their sons and daughters to spiritually enlighten their houses. People also practice pouring water over small standing statues of the newly born Buddha and decorating them with beautiful flowers. At night on that same day, people who offer and dedicate the lotus lanterns are paraded around the Jongno-Euljiro-Gwanghwamum District. Lantern Festivals in Vietnam
In Vietnam, they celebrate their version of the lantern festival called the Tet-Trung Thu. It is held mid-Autumn on the 15th day of the lunar year. This is not only celebrated in Vietnam but also in Vietnamese communities around the world as well. Parents would buy their children lanterns in preparation for the dawn procession that would begin the festivities. These lanterns have special significance because they symbolize brightness and it is believed that the long procession would bring good fortune for their children in school.
Among the variety of lanterns displayed, the “best seller” is the Star Lantern with a bamboo frame with a multi-colored plastic material to serve as its “skin. ” The candle is placed at the center and lit at night. Besides the lantern procession, various dances are also performed (Wong 2002). By way of conclusion, one would notice that the lantern festivals observed in the given Asian countries seem to have originated from China. This can be seen from the design of the lanterns which are either uniquely Chinese or having a bit of Chinese design in it to signify or indicate its origins.
For a tourist, these festivals are things they should not miss for they also have spiritual or religious undertones as well. List of References China Voc. 2007, “Lantern Festival”, China Voc [online] available at http://www. chinavoc. com/festivals/lantern. htm. GDog. 2007, “Jogyesa Temple: Lotus Lantern Festival in Korea”. The Daily Kimchi [online] available at http://thedailykimchi. blogspot. com/2007/05/lotus-lanterns-at-jogyesa-temple-happy. html. Japan National Tourism Organization. 2010, “O-Bon”, Japan National Tourism Organization [online] available at http://www. jnto. go. jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a69b_fes_obon. html.
Japan National Tourism Organization. 2010, “Setsubon Mantoro”, Japan National Tourism Organization [online] available at http://www. jnto. go. jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a09_fes_setsubun. html. Shi, L. 2003, “History of Lantern Festival”, China Culture [online] available at http://www. chinaculture. org/focus/focus/2010yuanxiao/2010-02/26/content_372406. htm. Wong, B. 2002. “Tet Trung Thu”, Family Culture [online] available at http://www. familyculture. com/holidays/tettrungthu. htm.