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Mid-Autumn Festival Lanterns: 4 Symbolic Meanings

Lanterns are an essential part of China's Mid-Autumn Festival. There are many traditional activities related to lanterns, such as making lanterns, carrying lanterns while moon gazing, hanging lanterns in trees or on houses, releasing sky lanterns, or visiting public lantern displays. Hence, Mid-Autumn Festival is also called a lantern festival (not to be confused with the Lantern Festival celebrating the end of the Chinese New Year period).

Want to know the cultural background behind the lanterns? Continue to read...

Mid-Autumn Festival Lanterns: 4 Symbolic Meanings

1. Lighting up the Night and Creating a Festive Atmosphere

Traditionally, the festivities of Mid-Autumn Festival begin after sunset. People from all walks of life gather in an open space, carrying lanterns with them. Under the full moon, towns, and cities are suddenly filled with light and laughter.

Lanterns are used to celebrate occasions of joy and harmony and the celebration of some festivals. Mid-Autumn Festival is a happy event. People make, carry, and hang lanterns to create a happy festive atmosphere.

2. Symbolizing Family Reunion

In ancient times, lanterns were used as the most popular type of lighting. During Mid-Autumn Festival, streets and houses were decorated with special (auspicious red) lanterns to "illuminate the way of reunion".

Another way that lantern's symbolize family reunion is their circular shape, which symbolizes wholeness and togetherness and is reminiscent of the full moon — another classic reunion symbol in Chinese culture.

mid autumn festival lanterns

3. Praying for Good Luck and Fortune

In China, lanterns symbolize beacons that light people's path to prosperity and good fortune. In some places, lanterns are released into the sky to pray for good luck.

4. Praying for Babies

In some areas of China, on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, mothers send lanterns to their newly married daughters. This is not only represents a prayer for her daughter to lead a prosperous life, but also a prayer for her daughter to have babies as soon as possible.

This is because the Chinese character for 'lantern' (灯 dēng) contains the radicals 火 (huǒ, fire), and 丁 (dīng, people), and therefore many believe that lighting lanterns will bring families a bright future and more children.

Types of Mid-Autumn Festival Lanterns

Kids (and adults) love lanterns. It is a happy time when families make lanterns together.

Traditional Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns are made of paper and lit with candles. Round fan-fold ones are the basic ones while fruit and animal-shaped lanterns like rabbit, fish, butterfly, dragon, phoenix, and fruit-shaped ones are for children. It is also popular to make lanterns with pomelo peels.

Nowadays, people tend to get LED lanterns and plastic lanterns containing light bulbs. There are even musical ones with flashing lights. 

It is a traditional activity to carry lanterns in a procession on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival.

mid autumn festival lanterns

Mid-Autumn Festival Lantern Riddles

Another popular tradition is to write riddles on displayed lanterns for revelers to try to solve.

People write riddles on small strips of paper and attach them to the lanterns. These riddles are usually based on poems, folklore, historical events, and jokes about current social issues. The crowd read them and try to crack the riddles. Anyone who guesses the correct answer might even win a small gift.

If you go to visit a lantern display, you may have a chance to try it.

Mid-Autumn Festival Lantern Riddles

Mid-Autumn Lantern Fairs and Activities around China in 2022

Lantern fairs and Mid-Autumn activities are held all over China, but the most notable are in the biggest and wealthiest cities, like Hong Kong and Beijing:

Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival in Hong Kong (To Be Confirmed)

Hong Kong pulls out all the stops when it comes to the intricately decorated and beautifully designed lanterns that are on display across various neighborhoods all over the city. Besides the brightly lit lanterns, there are usually game stalls, palm readers, and even traditional stage shows.

The largest and most popular carnival is found in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, but there are usually lantern carnivals spread throughout Hong Kong.

Mid-Autumn Festival Lantern Fairs in Beijing

Before the Mid-Autumn Festival, many parks and museums in Beijing are usually decorated with lanterns and prepare many activities or exhibitions for the public.

On the evening of Mid-Autumn Festival, Tian'anmen Square, Fragrant Hills, and Happy Valley are popular places to enjoy lantern displays, guess lantern riddles, etc.

mid autumn festival lanterns

Mid-Autumn Festival Lantern Fairs in Singapore

In Singapore, the best places to enjoy beautiful lantern displays are Chinatown and Gardens by the Bay. Colorful lanterns light up the streets and rich performances create a vibrant atmosphere. See more about Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore

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