Welcoming the Warmth of Spring

Posted By | Posted On Feb 14, 2014

Although February 14th is Valentine’s Day here in the States, in China and throughout most of Asia, people are winding up the Lunar New Year Celebration on the first full moon of the Lunar New Year with the Lantern Festival. One of the largest is taking place in Pingxi, on the outskirts of Taipei City in Taiwan, where thousands of paper lanterns are being released into the night sky. The lanterns, originally made from bamboo frames but now made from thin steel wires, are covered with tissue, or sometimes oiled paper. A paper ball that has been dipped in kerosene is placed inside the lantern, lit, and then the glowing lantern is released. It is truly an amazing sight. Sometimes wishes are written on the lanterns before they are set free.

The Lunar New Year, is considered the beginning of Spring, according to the planting cycles in the ancient Chinese farmer’s almanacs, and the lanterns symbolize the light and warmth of the upcoming Spring. They are also seen as beacons, which light the way for the ancestral spirits to return and join in the celebration.

Traditionally, the night of the Lantern Festival was viewed as an opportunity for single people to find love, and matchmakers were busily trying to arrange pairings, so this year, in the Year of the Horse, the fact that Valentine’s Day and the Lantern Festival both fall on the same date makes it particularly auspicious for those looking for their soulmate.

The dish most closely associated with the Lantern Festival is known as Yuanxiao, in Northern China, or Tang Yuan in the Southern provinces. These are balls made from glutinous rice flour, and filled with rose petal-scented sweet black sesame paste, boiled in sugared water and sometimes rolled in crushed peanuts.

A particularly good version of Tang Yuan is on the dessert menu at Fuloon Restaurant in Malden, Massachusetts, where they are known simply as “sesame sweet rice ball”.


written by Jim Becker/Chinatown Guide



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