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January 18, 2012

Chinese Lantern Festival 中国元宵节

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Febrarury 6, 2012 is the Chinese Lantern Festival ( 元宵节, Yuanxiao Jie), which is a traditional Chinese festival since the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 221 AD). It marks the 15th - the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration.

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Yuanxiao or Tangyuan is the special food of the Lantern Festival, which is a kind of sweet dumpling, made with sticky rice flour filled with sweet stuffing, and round in shape. It symbolizes family reunion, completeness and happiness. A traditional celebration of Yuanxiao Jie includes music, dancing, acrobats, and of course, the sight of brightly decorated lanterns everywhere. People play the Lantern Riddle game, trying to guess the answers to the mysterious riddles show on the lanterns.  Of course, everyone snacks on Yuanxiao.

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Mr. Eastern was one of the trustful advisers of Emperor Wu Di in Han Dynasty.  On the 12th of the first lunar month, he heard a lady crying, ready to jump into a well and commit suicide in the garden. He stopped her and asked for the reason. She was Yuan-Xiao - a maid in the emperor's palace. She hadn't seen her family after she was chosen to work inside the palace. She missed them badly especially during the Chinese lunar new year. She told him that she would rather die if she couldn't have the chance to show her filial piety this life. Mr. Eastern promised to help her arrange a family reunion.

Because of his high reputation, many people came asking for their fortune. So, Mr. Eastern set up a table on the street and disguised as a fortuneteller outside the palace. But every one had the same prediction - severe fire accident on 15th lunar day. The rumor spread quickly, everyone worried about the future and asked him for help.

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Mr. Eastern said, "On the 13th lunar day, the God of Fire will send a fairy lady in red to burn down the city. If you see a lady in red with green pants on a black horse on that day, you should ask for her mercy." Then, Yuan-Xiao acted the red fairy lady on that day. She was told to say to the people who came asking for her help, "Yes. I'm the messenger of the God of Fire and have come to check on the city and going to set up the fire on 15th. This is an order from Jade Emperor who watches from the heaven. I give you a copy of imperial decree from the God of Fire. You should go to ask your emperor to find a way out." After she left, people went to palace to report to the emperor the decree which was written - capital city was in trouble, fire burns in the palace, heaven fire burns all night long on the 15th. etc..

Emperor Wu Di was greatly shocked. He asked for the advice from Mr. Eastern. After pondering for a while, Mr. Eastern suggested, "I heard the God of Fire likes the taste of Tangyuan. Does Yuanxiao often cook Tangyuan for you? On the 15th lunar day, let Yuan Xiao make Tangyuan. Your Majesty takes charge of the worship ceremony and gives orders to every household to prepare Tangyuan at the same time. Also, please deliver another order to carry red lanterns and explode fire crackers in every household. Plus, inform everyone in the palace and the people outside the city to carry their lanterns on the street to watch the lantern decoration and fireworks. In this way, Jade Emperor could be deceived in the heaven to believing the occurred. Then everyone could be able to avoid the fire accident trouble." The Emperor Wu Di happily followed the plan.

Lanterns were everywhere in the capital city during the night of 15th. Everyone was walking in the street with lanterns, and firecrackers snapped and popped everywhere making a loud noise! It looked like entire city on fire. Yuanxiao's parents came to the palace to watch the lantern decoration. Yuanxiao made a huge lantern and wrote down her name on the outside of the lantern. The family happily reunited with her after her parents find her name. Every family was safe, and Emperor Wu Di had a new order that every household should do the same thing at the same night every year. Because Yuanxiao cooked the best Tangyuan.  So, every 15th of the first lunar month, we call it Yuanxiao Jie - The Lantern Festival.

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