Thursday, 5 March 2015

Yuan Xiao Jie 元宵节 2015


Also known as The Lantern Festival which marks the end of Chinese New Year celebrations, Yuan Xiao Jie 元宵节 should not be confused with Mid-Autumn Festival popularly coined as Lantern Festival also. Yuan Xiao Jie falls on the 15th day of Zhengyue (first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar) is also known as Chap Goh Mei (literally 15th evening) in Singapore. In China, it is also the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Traditional and modern Chinese families observe Yuan Xiao Jie by having a simple family gathering where the young and elderly meet for a bowl of Yuan Xiao (元宵 as called by the northerners) or Tang Yuan (汤圆 as called by the southerners).

Each tang yuan symbolises a year in age (longevity) so eating more increases your life span

Yuan Xiao is a savoury Chinese snack made of glutinous rice balls filled with minced meat and vegetables in broth while Tang Yuan is the sweet version commonly filled with walnuts, red dates, black sesame, red bean or peanut pastes. The more exquisite ones have osmanthus flower filling in light sugar syrup.


The Lantern Festival

The Lantern Festival, also called Yuan Xiao Jie, was celebrated at the fifteen day of the first lunar month. It marks the end of New Year's celebrations, also the first time to see a full moon of that year in Lunar Calendar.

Legend of the Lantern Festival - According to Chinese ancient legend, Heavenly Jade Emperor angered and wanted to destroy a town on earth as his favorite bird was killed by a hunter by accident. A kind fairy heard of this vengeance and warned the people to light lanterns all over the town on that appointed day. All the people at the town did that. The emperor looked down the town from the sky and it seemed that it had blazed. He was satisfied and left. From that day on, people celebrated the anniversary of their deliverance by carried lanterns through the streets at the first full moon night of the year

Origin of Lantern Festival - Lantern Festival was originated at Han Dynasty, with the Buddhism flourishing in China by then. The Emperor then ordered to light lanterns in palace and temples to show his respect to Buddha at 15th of the first lunar month. This practice was expanded to other parts of China along the years.

In Kaifeng, during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126), lanterns were carried by dancers concealed inside dragons, as in Lunar New Year's parades today. Everyone out on the streets drinking, eating, and enjoying music, theater and acrobatics; some carried lanterns in the long pole.

The Lantern Festival cerebration reached its peak at Ming Dynasty, lasting for ten days. Downtown Area was set aside for displaying the lanterns. Dengshikou in Beijing was the place for selling and buying lanterns on that day.

Celebration of Lantern Festival - Watching lanterns and eating Tang Yuan are the most important celebrations on this day. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, attracting countless visitors at night. It is said that the brilliance of the artificial lights almost outshone the light of full moon. Some children would carried their lanterns in the long pole, and have fun with the whole family. "Guessing lantern riddles" is an essential part for lantern watching.

The puzzles or riddles were written on the lanterns of just pasted on them. If one can solve that puzzles, a little gift would be given. Nowadays, lantern show is still available in many big cities like Temple of Earth and Heaven in Beijing and Chenghuang Temple in Shanghai.

Tang Yuan or Yuanxiao is sticky rice dumplings, meaning reunion, harmony and happiness for the family. It is the special food on lantern festival, made of glutinous rice flour filled with stuffing in round shape. Most Chinese people do and eat on this specific day and kinds of stuffing like sugar, Walnuts, sesame, rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste include. Yuanxiao is easy to make, shaping the dough of the rice flours into balls first, making a hold by finger and inserting the fillings, then closing the hole and smooth by rolling between hands.

There are other celebrations to do at the daytime; performances like dragon lantern dance, lion dance, and land boat dance are always on stage. Fireworks form another scene at night time.


THE STORY BEHIND LANTERN FESTIVAL

We know, we know—you’ve had enough of the fireworks already. But buck up, friends! Today’s final hurrah, known as Yuanxiao Jie (元宵节, Lantern Festival), marks the last day of Spring Festival. Falling on the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar, the Yuanxiao Jie ends Spring Festival’s two-week celebrations with a bang (or a thousand), and falls on the evening of the year’s first full moon.

As we told you last year, festivities are relatively simple: hanging lanterns, solving riddles and fighting your neighbors for sweet glutinous rice balls, or yuanxiao (元宵), are all holiday staples. But where did the festival actually come from?

Like many holidays, Yuanxiao Jie’s origins have been largely obscured over the centuries, but there are several theories floating around as to how it developed. Here are our favorites:

The “Making Offerings to Gods” Theory: One explanation says the holiday grew out of yearly offerings to Taiyi, the bigwig god responsible for controlling the fate of humanity. A similar story says that the festival is actually dedicated to the Taoist god Tianguan, whose birthday falls on that day, and who was also responsible for granting good fortune.

The “Martyred Warrior” Theory: Yet another legend traces the holiday back to an ancient warrior named Lan Moon, who led a rebellion against a tyrannical king, and whose death was commemorated with festivities made in his name.

The “Buddhist Symbolism” Theory: Some say the festival goes back to Emperor Mingdi, who ruled during the Eastern Han Dynasty, when Buddhism was still a marginal religion in China. After having a mysterious dream about a golden man, Mingdi sent a scholar to India to retrieve sacred Buddhist texts. When the scholar finally returned, Emperor Mingdi built a temple for the scriptures, and it became widely said that Buddhism had the power to “dispel darkness.” As a way of symbolizing this new truth, Emperor Mingdi had his subjects commemorate their newfound enlightenment by lighting lanterns.

My Favorite Theory: While this is probably the least legit, it definitely makes for the best (if somewhat logically unsound) story. According to this legend, it all started with a young girl named Yuan Xiao who lived in the palace during the Han Dynasty. One day, an advisor to the emperor was wandering the grounds when he found Yuan Xiao crying, and preparing to kill herself by jumping into a well.

When the advisor asked her what was the matter, she said she hadn’t been able to see her family since she started working at the palace, and would rather die than be separated from her parents. The advisor hatched a plan, and set up a fortune-telling stall out in the street. And for every person who came to him, he provided the same fortune: that a disastrous fire would consume the kingdom on the15th lunar day.

Predictably, people started freaking out, and asked the advisor what they could do. He answered that two days before, the God of Fire would send a red fairy to burn down the city, and that people should ask her for mercy. On that day, Yuan Xiao dressed up as the fairy, and delivered a proclamation confirming the city’s impending doom. When the emperor turned to his advisor for help, the advisor said that every household should cook the God of Fire’s favorite food, tangyuan (汤圆, glutinous rice balls), as an offering.

They should also hang red lanterns and set of firecrackers to make it seem as though the city were on fire. To the delight of everyone (except Yuan Xiao and the advisor), this combination of pandering and trickery worked, and the city escaped its doom-by-fire. In the end, Yuan Xiao’s parents came to the palace to check out the lanterns and were reunited with their daughter. The emperor then decreed that the day should be observed every year, and since Yuan Xiao had cooked the best tangyuan, said that the holiday should be named after her. Yeah, I don’t believe it either. But it makes for a nice story to tell over your yuanxiao soup, don’t you think?


Chap Goh Meh

Chap Goh Meh (also known as the Lantern Festival) is a Chinese festival celebrated on the 15th day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar.

During the Lantern Festival, it is common to see colourful paper lanterns and competitions for solving traditional riddles in Buddhist temples. The air is festive and bright with lion dance, dragon dance, firecrackers and various other traditional performances.

Chap Goh Meh or Tzap Goh Mei represents the 15th and final day of the Lunar New Year period as celebrated by the Chinese communities. The term is from the Hokkien dialect and the day auspiciously coincides with the first full moon of the New Year.

The occasion is marked by feasting and various festivities, including the consumption of tangyuan (glutinous rice ball). In traditional Chinese culture, the Lantern Festival is also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival. In Southeast Asia, however, it coincides with the Chinese Valentine's Day. A day when young unmarried women gather to toss mandarin oranges into a river, in the hope that their future spouse will pick up their orange or 'choose them' – a custom that originated in Penang, Malaysia.


Rediscovering the romance of Chap Goh Mei
A romantic spot on the streets of Chinatown on Chap Goh Mei

The fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year, Chap Goh Mei (Hokkien for 15th night) as it has been commonly referred to in Singapore, has traditionally been associated with romance. It was perhaps in the hope of rediscovering the romance of a festival that has been lost in the embrace of modernity that drew a healthy crowd of participants to a walk through the streets of Chinatown on the evening of the fifteenth day this year on what coincidentally was also the western day for the celebration of romance, St. Valentine’s Day that was organised by the Conservation Management Department of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The fifteenth night of any Chinese lunar month is of course one that, weather conditions permitting, would be illuminated by the light of the full moon – a setting that certainly is ideal for romance. In the case of Chap Goh Mei, it is a night when Yuanxiao Jie (元宵节) is celebrated, providing an evening for romance to be found not only in the light of the moon, but also in the glow of colourful lanterns; it having been a tradition to have lanterns displayed outside homes and along five-foot-ways, as it was for children to take to the streets carrying lanterns in a fashion similar to the Mid-Autumn festival.

The search for romance would take many eligible young men and women to the water’s edge the waterfront along Esplanade was, I am told, a particularly popular spot, from which fruits would be aimed into the water. For the ladies, it would be oranges, representing good husbands, that would be thrown, and for men, good wives taking the form of apples – a practice that I actually did not know about until more recent times.

While we did not get the chance to toss oranges or apples in the name of romance, we did however get an opportunity to rediscover the romance of Chap Goh Mei and of a Chinatown that would otherwise lie hidden behind the recoloured labyrinth of streets of what would once have been referred to as Tua Poh or the ‘Greater Town’.

The route we were to take, lanterns in hand, was one of many twists and turns, taking us through a complex of streets that in being referred to as Chinatown, belies the intra-ethnic divisions that did once exist within the greater Chinese immigrant community, divisions that would once have been apparent in moving across the area’s many streets.


Valentine’s Day

In ancient times, females of marriageable age were not allowed to step out of their homes except on this Yuan Xiao Jie where the emperor had decreed everyone must carry a lantern and go out to deceived the God of Fire.

Young ladies were chaperoned in the streets and young men went in hopes of finding love on this special occasion where ladies were permitted out of their house. When the young man found someone to his liking, he then hires a matchmaker to act on his behalf for the lady’s hand in marriage. Modern state girls write their names & phone numbers on oranges (hopefully in permanent ink) and throw them into a river and the men who pick them up will become their spouse. Mass marriages through the years had been conducted on this date too.

As time passed, the festival no longer has such match-making tradition but people still send love messages and gifts to their loved ones.