The Garden Guide

Chinese lanterns

Paper lanterns 

Chinese lanterns are usually collapsible and made in bright coloured paper. Lanterns can also be made of glass, jade, if you are an emperor, or ice if you live in North China. The Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Festival in Chinese – ‘Yuan’ means ‘first’ and ‘xiao’ means ‘night’) takes place on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year and began in the 6th Century BCE. Chinese months relate to the lunar calendar so that each month starts on the darkest day. The moon is therefore at its brightest on the 15th day. Lanterns are painted with flowers, animals, signs of the zidiac legendary scenes. Lanterns are hung up and carried to an evening parade in the light of the full moon. A dragon dance features in the Festival. The dragon might be 30m long, made of silk, paper, and bamboo, carried by young men. The Lantern Festival used to be a time to find love, with match-makers hard at work. The Festival has now become a Chinese St Valentine’s Day. A poet of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) wrote:

The flower market was bright as day.
The moon had climbed the willow tops.
At twilight end he came my way.
At this year's Lantern Festival
Moonlight and lamplight shine no less.
I have not seen my last year's love.
Tears wet the sleeves of my Spring dress.