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Ah, Chinese lantern festivals. Sure, you've seen snippets of them in movies, brochures, websites, and may have even visited one or two in your hometown, but have you actually caught one in China? Trust me, they're a million times more of a spectacle on the Mainland than anywhere in the world. Here's what you need to know and can expect at Chinese lantern festivals:
The Holidays ...
There are two holidays in China that traditionally call for lanterns: Chinese Lantern Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival.
Chinese Lantern Festival
First up? The big one. The big cahoona. The ... well, you get the picture. It's the Chinese Lantern Festival, one of China's most celebrated holidays. Held on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar new year (January to February), the event officially marks the end of Chinese New Year festivities.
You want to see the biggest and best Chinese lanterns? Well, this one's a must-do. Heck, it's the equivalent of New York's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, except that instead of taking place in just one city, China's Chinese Lantern Festival is held in regions all across the country. Oh yeah.
And the other? It's China's Mid-Autumn Festival. This one's typically held on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar (September-October).
Though the full-moon, mooncakes, and food-offerings may be the most characteristic items to look out for during the holiday, lantern festivals are also typically rooted in the celebrations, along with incense burning and dragon performances. So, let the good times roll!
Location, Location, Location ...
Chinese Lantern Festivals are usually held in large public squares, parks, gardens, recreational spaces, temple grounds, and ancient towns.
The Crowds ...
You've guessed right. In a land filled with 1.3 billion people, no major event is immune to thousands of visitors showing up. Expect everybody: Young, old, families, friends, couples, expats, tourists. Heck, even the ayis will find time to escape the house to join in on the fun.
You just gotta' love the cultural performances at Chinese lantern festivals, too. You might see some dragon dancing, Sichuan-opera face changing, folk singing, hand juggling, and playing of traditional instruments just to name a few. What cultural aspect of China would you like to see?
Food, food, food! Many Chinese lantern festivals will offer up some decent treats to munch on via booths setup on the premises. Barbecue skewers, traditional street snacks, fruit, wieners, candy, popcorn, desserts, fruit drinks, and milk teas are all fair game.
You may even catch popular western fast food joints like KFC, McDonald's, Subway, and Burger King dishing out sandwiches and appetizers from their own stalls, too. Oh my, how the West has won!
The Lanterns ...
Finally, what you've come to see: The lanterns. Any expat in China will tell you that Chinese lantern festivals have got plenty of cool, creative, diverse, and Instagram-worthy, '#top picture of the day' kind of styles and setups to see.
They're big, they're tall, they're wide, they're long, they'll hang above your heads and across buildings, wrap around trees, float across water, and they'll typically embody several themes.
There's your usual stock of hanging lanterns that, in the old days, were primarily used to light homes, shops, buildings, and streets. These are the most common you'll see around the world.
Chinese Culture, Lifestyle & Tradition
Next up are you're lanterns that characterize Chinese lifestyle, traditions, folklore, and religious beliefs. You'll find display of everything from deities, dragons, and popular cartoon characters, to notable figures in mythology,
Next up are lanterns commemorating the specific year of the Chinese zodiac. There's the Year of the Monkey, Year of the Tiger, Year of the Horse, and, well, there are 12 animals in total. It's not uncommon for these 'zodiac lanterns' to be the main attractions during the Chinese Lantern Festival.
Fish, Animals & More
And last? The 'everything-else' bunch that mostly includes lantern displays of animals, fish, and flowers. Cool, right?
And there you have it: What it's like at an authentic, homegrown lantern festival in China. What do you think? Does it sound and look like something you'd want to see? Of course! So what are you waiting for? Get to China!! Safe & happy travels!
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