The Chinese New Year celebration ends on the 15th day of the lunar new year. The Lantern Festival draws the cultural holiday to a harmonious close.
Although the actual date this year was last Sunday, Feb. 24, the Chinese American Museum will still host its 12th annual Lantern Festival this Saturday, March 2 in Los Angeles. Admission is free.
Michael Truong, education programs manager of the Chinese American Museum, says that the festival is an educational tool to make Chinese culture accessible to the public. It allows the community to learn and appreciate the history, traditions and customs of this Chinese holiday, Truong said.
Truong says that the event is a cultural celebration to close out the new year. The San Gabriel Valley and Chinatown have already had luna celebrations during the two-week holiday, so "we feel that the Lantern Festival is a way to commemorate the ending of the New Year," Troung said.
The Lantern Festival's history and origins have many interpretations. According to ancient mythology, a villager had accidentally killed the favorite phoenix that belonged to the god, Jade Emperor of Heaven, Truong says. This prompted him to destroy the village on the 15th day of the new year.
One villager suggested lighting lanterns, so on the 15th day, the villagers lit thousands of lanterns. When the god looked down from heaven, he thought the village was already on fire and decided to spare the villagers' lives — thus came a yearly celebration of the anniversary of the villagers' survival. Truong says the Lantern Festival lights the way to a prosperous new year.
UC Irvine History Professor Yong Chen gives another interpretation. He says that the Lantern Festival is on the 15th day for both Buddhist and Taoist religious reasons.
Buddhists worship Buddha on the 15th, while Taoists worship an important god on the 15th. Both religions use red lanterns to observe the tradition. "Red is also an auspicious, festive and cheerful color," Chen said.
He added that on the 15th day of the lunar year is a full moon, which signifies that the spring season has arrived. This is a time when the planting season begins and people pray for good harvest, Chen said.
People also want to celebrate under the full moon. The red lanterns "help light up the village, because in ancient times, there was no electricity," Chen said.
The Lantern Festival is from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 2. It will include various festivities and "encompass all parts of the culture," Truong says. Here are the four main parts of the event:
There will be over 20 stage performances every hour on the hour from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., including lion dances, Chinese folk dances and magic shows. The Silver Dragon stage performance will end the night.
Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts are also a big part of the festival. There will be 14 workshops teaching how to make various Chinese-themed arts and crafts, including abacus making, red envelope making, kite making and — of course — lantern making. The workshops are taught by volunteers. The museum staff trains the volunteers on how to make the arts and crafts, who in turn teach the public.
The Chinese American Museum will have extended hours until 7 p.m. for visitors. Currently, there are three main exhibits featured at the museum.
Want to make your own lantern? Here's a step-by-step guide:
1. Get a sheet of construction paper.
2. Make a drawing.
3. Fold the paper in half lengthwise.
4. Cut strips about 1/2 inch apart.
5. Unfold the paper.
6. Tape the edges together.
Here is your final product!
The Chinese American Museum has more than 35,000 visitors a year. The historic building is one of the only existing buildings from Old Chinatown, as opposed to the Chinatown we know today.
The museum is located across from Union Station and south of Olvera Street. Check out our map below: