Lanterns Bring Brilliance to New Year Festivities

Helen Shia and Evan Mantyk, Contributing Writers

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, is the biggest holiday for 2 billion people worldwide. Just like Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a Christmas tree or Thanksgiving without a turkey, lanterns are a quintessential part of the celebration.

The first day of Chinese New Year commences two weeks of celebration, feasting, and holiday traditions. The final day of celebration is called the Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival is the first opportunity to see a full moon in the New Year and, as its name suggests, it’s an evening to enjoy dazzling lanterns of all shapes and sizes.

Sometimes intriguing riddles are written on strips of paper and attached to the bottom of the lanterns. Everyone joins in guessing the answers to these thought-provoking riddles, making the celebration interactive and lively. This tradition began in ancient China and has lasted until today.

But where does the Chinese lantern come from?

It is said that almost 2,000 years ago, the great military strategist Zhuge Liang needed a way to send signals in the dark. So, he took a sheet of oiled rice paper, fitted it onto a bamboo frame in the shape of his signature hat, lit a candle inside to illuminate and produce hot air, and… voila! The first lantern was born, floating up and away into the night sky. Zhuge Liang’s friends called him “Kongming” (孔明), and today the floating lantern is still known as a “Kongming Lantern.”

By the time of Emperor Tang Xuanzong’s reign during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), there were 50,000 different kinds of lanterns lit in the capital city of Chang'an for the New Year’s celebration. The lanterns’ patterns and embellishments exemplified the grandeur of the prosperous Tang Dynasty—known as China’s Golden Age.

To celebrate the history and cultural significance of the lantern, Shen Yun Performing Arts has choreographed multiple lantern-themed dances and performed them on their world tours. Our Lantern Jewelry Collection is inspired by the lanterns featured onstage in Shen Yun’s dances. So now you can carry your own piece of the festivities with you wherever you go, brightening up any day of the year!

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