20:46 GMT17 April 2021
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    • Women wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk under red lanterns hanging along an alley near the Houhai Lake in celebration of the Lunar New Year in Beijing, 11 February  2021. China appeared to be on pace for a slower than normal Lunar New Year travel rush this year after authorities discouraged people from travelling over the holiday to help maintain the nation's control over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
    • People wearing face masks walk at Yu Garden decorated with lanterns ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivity, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China 27 January 2021.
    • A worker wearing a face mask carries red lanterns, ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China 28 January 2021.
    • People walk under red lanterns in a historic part of Beijing as China celebrates Lunar New Year of the Ox following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), China, 14 February 2021.
    • A security guard wearing a face mask walks past a pavilion decorated with red lanterns ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivity, at a park following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, China 27 January 2021.
    • A vendor of Lunar New Year decorations looks up near giant lanterns hung outside a store ahead of the Year of the Ox Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on 22 January 2021. A recent resurgence in coronavirus cases in China has prompted authorities to curb Lunar New Year activities, impacting a wide swath of industries from airlines, trains, hotels and restaurants to small shops selling decorations for the Year of the Ox.
    • A woman takes a selfie in front of a red lantern in a park in Beijing as China celebrates Lunar New Year of the Ox following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), China, 14 February 2021.
    • Workers install lanterns ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivity at Yu Garden, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China 27 January  2021.
    • A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walks past a display of lanterns at a public park in Beijing on 5 January 2021. China has designated parts of Hebei province near Beijing as a coronavirus high danger zone after 14 new cases of COVID-19 were found.
    • People walk past trees decorated with red lanterns ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivity, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, China 27 January 2021.
    © AP Photo / Andy Wong
    Women wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk under red lanterns hanging along an alley near the Houhai Lake in celebration of the Lunar New Year in Beijing, 11 February 2021. China appeared to be on pace for a slower than normal Lunar New Year travel rush this year after authorities discouraged people from travelling over the holiday to help maintain the nation's control over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month in the lunisolar calendar and traditionally marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

    Also known as Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节, First Night Festival in English), the Lantern Festival is considered one of the most spectacular events in China's cultural calendar. This year it's taking place on 26 February.

    Historically lanterns were used by the army as signalling devices, however, they were also embedded in Chinese folklore. The first legend is about a villager who accidentally killed a sacred crane. This made one of the mythological emperors, Tiandi (天帝), furious and he pledged to exact vengeance by burning down the village on the 15th day of the first lunar month. However, his daughter took pity on the villagers and warned them about the plan. As a result, they decided to raise hundreds of red lanterns outside their houses to create the image of a huge fire, tricking the emperor.

    Another legend is the story of a maiden who served in the emperor's palace without being granted the chance to see her family. She was desperate and tried to commit suicide, but was stopped by the emperor’s adviser who promised to bring her parents into the town. On the next day, the man left the palace disguised as a fortune-teller. He told everyone that the emissary of the God of Fire would descend from heaven and burn the city down on the 15th day of the first lunar month. The man also spread rumours that the emissary loved rice balls. The rumours reached the emperor so he ordered every citizen to cook rice balls and raise red lanterns so that the city would look like it was on fire. The maiden’s parents were among those who visited the palace to give rice balls to the fictional emissary. The maiden noticed her parents in the crowd and the family reunion was complete.

    On this day, people in China usually eat rice balls, also known as yuan xiao. People believe that sweet glutinous rice balls will bring good fortune and ensure a safe year. The dish also has a symbolic meaning for Chinese families. Another Chinese name for the rice ball – tangyuan (汤圆) – has a similar pronunciation to the word tuanyuan (团圆), which means "reunite." The tradition of eating rice balls hence symbolises family reunion.

    Tags:
    Chinese New Year, tradition, culture, Lantern Festival, China
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