Like many Chinese traditions, Chinese lanterns have a rich history that spans thousands of years. For centuries, lanterns have been a staple of Chinese people, especially during celebrations. Different types of Chinese lanterns exist on many occasions, each with a special meaning.
(1) The Han Dynasty roots
Chinese lanterns have a long history, and there are even records of paper lanterns as early as the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD). People of that era made candle frames out of bamboo, wood, or straw, on which silk or paper was stretched to create a hot air balloon effect. Different traditional Chinese characters are used on the silk or paper, and sometimes even advertise for nearby businesses.
When these festive lanterns were popular in Chinese culture at the time, the monks adopted them to celebrate the Buddha. They adopted lanterns as a part of their Buddhist rituals on the twelfth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. A very devout emperor asked his subjects to follow this practice, and people started lighting lanterns in honor of the Buddha.
(2) From Tang Dynasty to Modern China
Over the centuries, this little custom has gradually become a big celebration in China. It was further popularized during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) when townspeople celebrated the power of the state by putting festive lanterns into the sky. It was an era of peace and prosperity, and the Chinese sent lanterns to the sky to celebrate all the blessings they received. Since then, it has become a common practice to light lanterns and launch them into the sky.
In modern China, the Lantern Festival is still celebrated on the 15th day of the Chinese calendar every year, which marks the Spring Festival celebrations. It's a time to celebrate with a loved one, during which the family gathers to light and admire the festive lanterns. Cities all over are decorated with large and beautiful lanterns of various shapes. The owner of the lantern writes riddles on it. Solving these riddles is one of the popular Lantern Festival activities!