The Origins of the Lantern Festival

The story about the origin of the festival goes like this. Buddhism first entered China during the reign of Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han Dynasty, in the first century.

Emperor Mingdi had a dream about a gold man in his palace. At the very moment when he was about to ask the mysterious figure who he was, the gold man suddenly rose to the sky and disappeared in the west. The next day, Emperor Mingdi sent a scholar to India on a pilgrimage to locate Buddhist scriptures.

 After journeying thousands of miles,the scholar finally returned with some scriptures and detailed his journey. Emperor Mingdi  very impressed by what he heard ordered that a temple be built to house a statue of Buddha and serve as a repository for the scriptures. Emperor Mingdi ordered his subjects to display lighted lanterns during what was to become the Lantern Festival.

Throughout the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), Buddhism flourished in China. One emperor heard that Buddhist monks would watch sarira, or remains from the cremation of Buddha’s body, and light lanterns to worship Buddha on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, so he ordered to light lanterns in the imperial palace and temples to show respect to Buddha on this day. Later, the Buddhist rite developed into a grand festival among common people and its influence expanded from the Central Plains to the whole of China.Today, the lantern festival is  held each year around the globe. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, attracting countless visitors

Guessing lantern riddles”is an essential part of the Festival. Lantern owners write riddles on a piece of paper and post them on the lanterns. If visitors have solutions to the riddles, they can pull the paper out and go to the lantern owners to check their answer. If they are right, they will get a little gift. The activity emerged during people’s enjoyment of lanterns in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). As riddle guessing is interesting and full of wisdom.

Visit your local China Town, or Cost-Plus Global Market or Pier One and pick up some Red Lanterns, and create your own riddles and festive party with Friends and Family!!

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