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The Lantern Festival in Taizhou
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The Lantern Festival, a traditional Chinese festival, falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.


Except for the people originated from the south of Fujian Province living in Wenling and Yuhuan Counties, Taizhou natives regard the fourteenth day of the first lunar month as the Lantern Festival. There are many explanations for its origin. According to Linhai Annals, Fang Guozhen, the leader of the peasant uprising in the Ming Dynasty, celebrated the festival a day earlier in case Zhu Yuanzhang attacked him. Some say that Fang Guozhen knew his mother ate as a vegetarian on the first and fifteenth days of each lunar month, so he celebrated the festival a day earlier that his mother could eat delicious food with the family. Some say that the birthday of Mrs. Dong, his wife, was born on the fourteenth day of the first lunar month. Some say that Qin Minglei, No. 1 Scholar in Linhai, ate as a vegetarian on the fifteenth day; some say that the confidential information of Qi Jiguang’s defense against the Japanese invasion was divulged, so the festival was changed as part of the stratagem.


The Lantern Festival is a festival themed “lanterns”. Activities are mainly about hanging and viewing lanterns. Lanterns are usually hung from the thirteenth and fourteenth day of the first lunar month. They might be hung for five, two or three days. The fourteenth day is the climax. All people, rich or poor, set up racks along streets and hang lanterns on. There are lift type (such as hang-lanterns) and pedestal type (such as lanterns shaped like the huge legendary turtle). Lanterns are in various shapes. There are lanterns in the lotus shape, those with Chinese characters meaning “fortune” and “longevity”, those shaped like fruit or animals, or those with myths and stories on such as “Chang Er Flies to the Moon”, “Liuhai Makes Fun of The Toad”, “The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea”, etc. In Yuhuan, a fishing village, people hang lanterns of animals, fowls and fishes, by which they performed outside. Their unique performance has been very popular. Fireworks, lantern tours are prevalent in Linhai. At this time, there also prevail drums arbor, thin blown pavilion, stilt, dragon dance, lion dance and other folk entertainment and performances.


It is enjoyable to view lanterns on the Lantern. In the past, reclusive women also went outside and viewed lanterns. According to Linhai Annals - Customs in the Qing Dynasty under Emperor Kangxi’s Reign, women could avoid diseases and disasters if walking a hundred steps. Children were happier on that evening. They walked across streets and lanes with little flower lanterns, paper lanterns, centipede lanterns and fish lanterns. They even chased each other with rabbit lanterns on the crowed streets till the midnight. Every household lighted up candles and lamps at night, meaning “lighting every room”.


There is a custom of inserting bamboos and hanging paper lanterns in front of ancestors’ graves in the places near Yongjia and Leqing in Wenling and Yuhuan Counties in that evening. It is called “Lanterns on the grave”. The paper lanterns are not bright, so people call the dim lamps “lanterns on the grave”. However, the custom faded away before the nearest fifty years.


In the past, Yuhuan natives sent lanterns at the Lantern Festival. The elders bought paper lanterns and delivered as gifts to children. Skillful people make fish lanterns, dragon lanterns, animal lanterns and flower lanterns on their own. Lanterns with candles inside are available for the children to play with and view. Children with various lanterns often throng around dragon dance teams.


“Waking up the God of Wealth” is one of the significant activities at the festival in Panshan and Shitang of Wenling. Before the festival, local shops and fish guilds draw lots to determine one or two principals, responsible for funding from every household. They make the statue and organize the drummers and porters. The God of Wealth refers to Zhao Xuantan, also known as “Marshal Zhao”. The statue is generally made of sawali and painting cloth by pasting. It has a black face with thick beard, with an iron crown on his head, an iron whip in his hands, and a black tiger under him. So he is called “The God of Wealth on a black tiger” as well. Then the statue is arranged in a recess, and carried by four robust men. The gong are stuck, reed pipe and silk string are played. Guided by the colorful flags and lanterns, the team lines up and moves on across streets and lanes. Some people deliberately portray the god without auricles. Whichever shop it passes by, the shopkeeper has to fire a certain amount of firecrackers, trying to wake the god up, so that he can bring more fortune to the people. It is called “To fire and refresh”. Later, they burn paper and offer sacrifice, and send the god to other households. This custom has both superstitious and entertainment elements. People accepting the god often cost a big amount for this, so it does not prevail after the establishment of the P.R.C.


Places around Shashan in Yuhuan Island, people originated from the south of Fujian Province has custom of “Shaking the bamboo” in the middle night of the Lantern Festival. Children privately go to the bamboo forest in midnight, picking up a tall and robust bamboo and shaking the bamboo, with their feet side by side and hands over their heads. At the same time, they sing like this “Shaking, shaking, I will grow as you do and next year I will catch you up”.


In the evening, Linhai, Huangyan and Tiantai, etc. remain the custom of eating fermented glutinous rice.


At the Spring Festival, relatives and neighbors invite each other to have “New year’s dinner” or “Spring wine”. It often occurs before the twenty-fifth day of the first lunar month. A proverb in Wenling says “Wine and meat prohibited on fifteenth and sixteenth days”. Yuhuan natives attach much importance to the fifth day of the first lunar month, on which people invite relatives and friends to parties and banquets. It is called “A big meal”. Spring wine used to be a courtesy of kindness. Nowadays, it becomes a new year’s party between classmates, battle companions, colleagues and comrades.

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