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Thursday, February 21, 2008

元宵节: The Lantern Festival

Today is 元宵节, Yuan Xiao Jie, the Lantern Festival! The Lantern Festival is also known as the Little New Year because it marks the end of the two-week Lunar New Year celebration. The Chinese gave this festival the name Yuan Xiao Jie, which literally translates as First Night Festival, because it is the 15th day of the first lunar month ... the first night of the year to see a full moon.

On the night of the Lantern Festival, children go out at night carrying bright lanterns. In the more urban areas, brilliantly lit floats and mechanically-driven light displays draw huge crowds. People commonly eat Yuan Xiao dumplings (made of glutinous rice flour), whose round shape symbolize wholeness and unity and also mimic the appearance of the full moon.

There are four main styles of Chinese lanterns. In Ancient China, typically Northern Chinese displayed round lanterns while those living in Southern China tended to hang lanterns with a more elongated, cylindrical shape. Nowadays most Chinese display the rounded shape, simply because the cylindrical shapes require bamboo frames, which are more time-consuming to construct.

To create a paper Chinese lantern, gather together:

red and yellow construction paper
glue, tape or a stapler (I recommend a stapler)

Handcrafted by the Tongginator

First create a cylinder by rolling up one piece of yellow construction paper. It should have about a three inch circumference. Tape, glue or staple it closed so that it resembles a wider version of an empty paper towel tube. Set this aside.

Next fold in half a piece of red construction paper, making a long, thin rectangle.

Make a series of cuts (about a dozen or more), each beginning at the fold line and stopping about one inch prior to the edge of the paper.

Unfold the paper. Wrap this around the yellow cylinder you created earlier, ensuring that the creases travel horizontally around the yellow tube. Tape, glue or staple the ends together.

Using an additional piece of red construction paper, cut a strip about six inches long and one inch wide. Glue or staple this strip across one end of the lantern: this will be the lantern handle.