China's Lantern Festival Should Be on Your Bucket List—Here's Why

Sabrina Paparella

Chinese New Year festivities come to a close on the 15th day of the lunar calendar, but the last day of Chinese New Year is a bright departure from any other day of the celebrations. This final kick into the New Year is marked by the Lantern Festival, which is a spectacular celebration to witness. It includes fireworks, folk dancing, and, of course, the glow of numerous lanterns on display that range in design from the simple to the grandiose. Lanterns are typically red, a color symbolizing good fortune in the coming year. Metropolitan areas like Shanghai and Nanjing—home to the largest Lantern Festival—hold celebrations complete with food vendors, traditional lion dances, and even acrobats. If wanderlust has gotten ahold of you, the Lantern Festival in China is not to be missed. This year, the Lantern Festival falls on Saturday, February 11, but keep reading for four reasons the Lantern Festival should be on your bucket list.

Enjoy Lantern Watching

There are no limits when it comes to creativity during the Lantern Festival. Whether in the form of an animal, flower, or fruit, the shape, size, and range of lanterns on display are endless. Lanterns can be fixed to one spot, left to float freely, or held by festival-goers as they enjoy the celebrations. It's common to see the current year's animal of the zodiac included in lantern designs—2017 is the year of the rooster. More-complex lanterns are larger and taller, can spark with fireworks, and may even be lit with electricity and neon.

Lonely Planet Beijing ($15)

Witness the Lion Dance

One of the quintessential activities of the Lantern Festival is the traditional lion dance. Two trained dancers, costumed in an extravagant lion suit, choreograph to drums, gongs, and cymbals. One dancer plays the part of the lion's head while the other holds up the back and rear legs. The lion, as a symbol of strength, dances to ward off evil and bring safety to festival-goers as they venture forth into a new year.

Eat Traditional Tangyuan

No trip to the Lantern Festival is complete without experiencing the food. Most symbolic of the Lantern Festival is tangyuan, a ball-shaped dumpling made from rice flour that can come with a range of fillings like sweet red bean paste, peanuts, or walnuts. Tangyuan isn't simply for enjoying yourself, though; it is typically given to family and loved ones, as the dumpling's round shape symbolizes togetherness.

Light Your Own Lantern

Before ending your celebrations, light a lantern of your own. Lantern Festival fairs are bursting with numerous revelers brightening up lanterns that are then carried around or fixed to a spot. The lighting of a lantern symbolizes the illumination of a clearer path for your future as you enter the New Year. However, this isn't the only way lanterns are enjoyed. They often have riddles painted on them that festival-goers can guess the answers to. Traditionally, anyone who guesses the answer correctly receives a small prize.

Lonely Planet Shanghai ($15)

What type of trip should you take to start off your New Year? Read the eight types of trips you probably haven't taken yet—but should.

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