Lanterns, Feast of
Lanterns, Feast of is a Chinese festival, observed in the evening of the 15th day of January by every Chinese of respectability, who illuminates, with a great number of wax candles, a large lantern, displaying more or less splendor, according to the circumstances of the owner. Some of them are valued at several thousand dollars, on account of the decorations bestowed on them, and are from twenty to thirty feet in diameter. The Chinese ascribe the rise of this festival to a sad accident which happened in the family of a certain mandarin, whose daughter, as she was walking one evening on the bank of a river, fell in and was drowned. Her father, in order to find her, embarked on board a vessel, carrying with him a great number of lanterns. The whole night was spent in search of her, but to no purpose. However, this ceremony is annually kept up in memory of the mandarin's daughter. In some respects this festival resembles that observed by the ancients in honor of Ceres, when her votaries ran up and down the streets with lighted torches in their hands, in imitation of the hurry and confusion of the goddess when in quest of her daughter Proserpine. Others ascribe the rise of this Chinese festival to an extravagant project of one of their emperors, who shut himself up with his concubines in a magnificent palace, which he illuminated with a great number of splendid lanterns. The Chinese, scandalized at his behavior, demolished his palace, and hung the lanterns all over the city. But, however uncertain its origin, it seems pretty definitely established that the lantern-festival was observed as early as A.D. 700 (comp. Williams, Middle Kingdom, 2:82).
One peculiar custom of this feast is the grant of greater license to married women, who on other evenings, by Chinese custom, are obliged to confine themselves to their homes. The goddess called Mother (q.v.) is worshipped by them at this time, particularly by married but childless women, "expecting or desiring, as a consequence of such devotional acts to 'Mother,' to have male offspring." See Broughton, Bibliotheca Hist. Sacra, 2:4; Doolittle, Social Life of the Chinese (New York, 1867, 2 volumes, 12mo), 2:34 sq. (J.H.W.)