Yuán Xiāo Jié (Chinese Lantern Festival)

Background: The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in China but immigrated to the US after receiving her undergraduate degree. She grew up on a small island off the coast of China.

A: yuán xiāo jié is for tuan yuan – which means that um…family gets together for this celebration

We make round rice cakes called yuán xiāo filled with sweet black sesame and we eat them, and different colorful cute animals or flower shaped lights using wood or bamboo or paper and drawings on them, sometimes we make characters even. The…government, or community…would hang these very big lanterns in the streets, for a lantern festival we go to where riddles are written and hang under the lantern, and when you solved the riddle you could keep the light. People could buy these lanterns or make it themselves, and they had a candle inside of them so they could be lit.

Me: When is yuán xiāo jié celebrated?

A: It’s on….I think it’s on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, it’s the day when the moon is the roundest. The shape of the yuánxiāo is modeled after the shape of the round white moon. 

Me: How did you learn about this festival?

A: No one needs to tell you about it exactly, everyone just knows. It was just something that everybody did since I was very young. All the kids had lights, and the kids always competed over who had the prettiest lantern. Once when I was young I got a lotus flower lantern and I thought it was so beautiful…I was very proud. I would happily walk around with the adults and look at the beautiful lights.

Me: What does it celebrate?

A: It’s about spending time and enjoying time with your family. Families walk around the streets with the lanterns and can all enjoy their time together as well as when they get together and eat the rice ball. We celebrate togetherness and the happiness of the family. It’s part of the new year traditions.

Context: This was told to me over a recorded call.