Paper lantern lights, especially those coming from the flying paper lanterns that are so magnificently displayed in the sky during many festivals and occasions in Asia, are very enchanting to the eyes. They are not just splendid displays but their beauty gives people inspiration, and provides some kind of a reflecting moment.
But where did the use of paper lanterns start? The following are some interesting facts of history that you might want to know about the origin of the paper lantern lights.
Paper Lantern Lights Origin: Chinese Lantern Festival
The Chinese history is said to be the source of origin of the first display of lights from paper lamps. The paper lantern lights date back during the Han Dynasty when the Emperor Han Ming Di learned about the significance of lighting a lantern during the fifteenth night of the first lunar month. This ritual, as what he had learned from a monk, is a form of giving respect to the Buddha. Being a man of Buddhism, the emperor then ordered every household, palace, and temple to light their paper lanterns at that time.
Today, the festival is celebrated during the first month of the lunar year, on the fifteenth day. In China, the celebration is called the Yuanxiao Festival/Shangyuan Festival. However, in Singapore, Malaysia and in Indonesia, the festival is called Chap Goh Meh Festival. During these times of the festivity, children go out with their paper lantern lights to the temple and play riddles and other games with each other. Aside from the display of lights from paper lamps, there are also fire dragon dancing and lighting of fireworks. One more fun tradition in celebrating the Chinese Lantern Festival is eating Yuanxiao, a special glutinous rice ball filled with different kinds of stuffing.
Paper Lantern Lights Origin: Mid-Autumn Festival
Another part of the Chinese history that contributes to the origin of the festival of paper lantern lights dates back during the Tang Dynasty. This historical account is specifically considered to be the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Cake Festival, in China when people celebrate a time of successful harvest. At that time, the emperor ordered the construction of numerous lanterns hung in towers that were lavishly decorated with jade, silver, gold and other valuable gems. This event made the night of the celebration a sight to behold because of the magnificent lights display.
Today, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated every fifteenth night of the eight month by carrying colorful paper lantern lights, lighting flying and floating paper lantern lights, and hanging paper lantern lights on towers and other tall buildings. Other traditions during this festival include burning incense, dances of the popular fire dragon, matchmaking, and eating moon cakes.
Paper Lanterns Legend
Aside from the historical facts, mythical legends about the paper lantern lights are also interesting part of the paper lantern origins. There’s more than one legendary account of how display of lights from paper lamps became a popular practice in China. One of them is about the wrath of an emperor of the heavens who ordered the soldiers to burn a whole village because of the death of a sacred bird done by one of the village hunters. The good daughter of the heaven emperor informed the villagers of the emperor’s plan. A village elderly came up with the idea of lighting paper lanterns for 3 nights during the 1st lunar month so that the heaven emperor would think the whole village is already burning in fire. The plan was a success. Since then, people celebrate the success by displaying paper lantern lights on the fifteenth night of the first lunar month.
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