China’s annual Lantern Festival is a celebration of epic proportions that falls on Tuesday this year and officially marks the end of the Chinese New Year period. The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar and has several folk customs to commemorate it.

The festival, also known as Yuan Xiao, has been practiced for more than 2000 years, dating back to China’s Han Dynasty. At that time, Buddhism thrived in China and in order to popularize it, one of the emperors gave an order to light lanterns in the palace to worship and respect Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Soon lighting lanterns became a tradition for Chinese people.

During the festival, red lanterns would be placed everywhere, right from the streets to all houses. Public parks would be decorated with lanterns in various shapes and sizes that depict motives from Chinese folklore. These days, people also light floating, fixed or even flying lanterns. During this period, tourists from all over the world would visit China to marvel at these lanterns and guess the riddles written on them.

Fireworks are set off and people also enjoy watching the folk dances that include the lion dance, the dragon dance and people walking on stilts. The lion dance is a traditional art that has two different forms in northern and southern China. While in North China, the dance focuses on the skills of the dancers, in Southern China, the main focus will be on the costumes and their resemblance to the animal. The dance form was derived from the Three Kingdoms Period since the lion is a symbol for boldness and strength that protects people. People believe that by performing the lion dance, they will be able to lead an auspicious and happy life.

Yet another popular form of folk art is walking on stilts which traces its roots back to the Spring and Autumn seasons of the 770 BC to 476 BC. Performers bind stilts to their feet and make several difficult moves on them. They impersonate different characters such as monks, clowns and fishermen while performing vivid and humorous acts.

Food is another important factor of the festival and eating "yuanxiao" is an essential part of the tradition. Yuanxiao, also known as tangyuan, is a dumpling ball made from sticky rice flour stuffed with different fillings including sugar, rose petals, sesame, sweetened bean paste and jujube paste, depending on the region. The methods of making yuanxiao also differ in each region. Some of them do not have fillings. It can be boiled, fried or steamed and each has its own unique taste.

Yuanxiao is round in shape and symbolizes reunion, harmony and happiness. On the night of the festival, family members gather around and taste the dumplings while praying to the moon.

The biggest full moon will happen on the night of the Chinese Lantern Festival this year. According to China News Service, the co-incidence of a supermoon occurring on Chinese Lantern Festival is rare and the last time it happened was in 2010.

For those visiting China during the festival, the best places to witness the Lantern Festival are the Qinhuai Lantern Festival at the Confucius Temple in the Qinhuai zone, Nanjing and Shanghai Yuyuan Lantern Festival or the Guangzhou Yuexiu Park Lantern Fair at the Yuexiu Park in Guangzhou.