Chinese lantern festival. Photo-essay

Lantern Festival is the first major festival after the Chinese new year. This year i had to opportunity to visit the culture street of Tianjin, China, during the lanter  festival night. The most important activity is to watch the wonderful Chinese lanterns, admire the full moon and to eat traditional snacks. All in all the feeling is beautiful, everyone’s mood is joyful and everything around is beautifully decorated.

Lantern festival China

The famous red lanterns that give the name to this festival. Tianjin, China.

Lantern festival China

The fireworks really added a lot to the festive atmosphere.

Lantern festival China

Lantern close up. They look better in person though, and they’re huge 🙂

people was everywhere

Once I arrived I noticed two things. First, everything was beautifully decorated and the streets had red lanterns that could be seen anywhere in the street, in each house and store. In this occasion I did picture the culture street in Tianjin and this year the decoration was truly magnificent. Secondly, the crowd was pretty big but everyone was still able to walk. Police presence was also notable, but in a good way, I believe security was doing an okay job everything in order.

Lantern festival in China - iamatravelblog (5)

Lantern festival in China

Lantern festival in China. Pretty crowded in this particular area. Normally this street isn’t so crowded, and can be strolled down without much hassle.

Lantern festival

Street was heavily crowded but police kept everyone in order, sorta

LANTERN festival date’s back to ancient times

Lantern festival dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). That time Buddhism was flourishing in ancient China. So one of the emperors gave an order to light lanterns inside the imperial palace in order to worship Buddha every year on the 15th day of the first lunar month to popularize Buddhism. Afterwards lighting lanterns became a tradition for Chinese people until today.

Ancient culture street - Tianjin

Ancient culture street in Tianjin. I love the banners, they give the street an ancient “look” and flavor. The street indeed dates back to ancient times, but there is little remaining of the real old street.

Ancient culture street - Tianjin

Food sign (upper), reads: fruit pancake. Lower sign reads: Mahjong pieces for sale. Chinese people love to eat street snacks, is part of the fun to go around trying to taste everything that is available. Some of the snacks are too sweet for me, not really my thing.

Holiday customs

The Chinese Lantern festival has over 2000 years of history and contains various traditional customs therefore there is a series of activities that appeal to people of different ages:

  • Watching lanterns, fireworks.
  • Guessing lantern riddles.
  • Folk dances.
  • Eating Yuanxiao and other Chinese traditional snacks.
Ancient culture street - Tianjin

One of my favorite parts: This little street has walls that are carved with various motives and stories, everything is illuminated with lantern lights, therefore is pretty awesome.

Ancient culture street - Tianjin

I like the red theme.

Alley, lantern festival

Small streets so cool. Unfortunately there aren’t that many.

Lantern festival in China -

Paper statue.

Lantern festival

Paper statue on the street.

Eating Yuanxiao

Yuanxiao: is a dumpling ball made of sticky rice flour and stuffed with different fillings. Fillings are made of red bean, rose petals, sesame, bean paste, etc. Yuanxiao is ad important part of the festival. During the night of the festival family members sit together and taste Yuanxiao while appreciating the full moon. I personally hate the taste, and I specially dislike red bean paste, so I can’t comment any further. >:).

Ancient culture street - Tianjin

Ancient culture street – Tianjin

Lanterns everywhere, was pretty awesome

Lanterns everywhere, was pretty awesome


And because every household eats the Yuanxiao, therefore the festival got this name: YuanXiao Festival (in Chinese). For its rich and colorful activities its regarded as one of the most beloved and festive among all the Chinese festivals. A day for appreciating the bright full moon, and family reunion.

Lantern festival

Lantern festival China

Snacks weren’t that great but still a great evening out strolling at these ancient streets.

Lantern festival China

Fisherman in the nearby Haihe river.


Chinese people just love fireworks. This holiday is a good excuse to light up the sky. Although not as many and  grandiose as the fireworks at Chinese new year, it’s still possible to admire fireworks all around the city.

Lantern festival China

More late on that evening fireworks could be seen everywhere making for a fantastic view, also pretty cool.


Haihe river crosses the most central-part of Tianjin and is a beautiful sight by itself. On the winter months the river is rock-solid frozen. But on spring the ice melts to add to the beautiful scenery. I must also say this city might not impress anyone on the daytime but is definitively beautiful at night-time. And this river is one of the biggest reasons Tianjin is beautiful at night. I will make another post about this river later on, because is quite a sight.

Lantern festival China

A local fisherman. But I suspect the reason local people come to this river to fish is because they want to spend the evening out rather than because of the little fish they might catch.

Full moon at china

Full moon night, hence this festival.

Crowded at china!

Crowed. But then again this is China and its expected.


Guessing riddles is also regarded as an important part of the Lantern Festival. This folk custom dates back to ancient times. Basically, people write all kinds of riddles on paper pieces, and then paste them on the colorful red lanterns. The purpose is to let other people guess the answer. If someone has the right answer he can pull the paper to let organizers verify the answer. Gifts are given to the people who got the answers right. Pretty cool right?.


Lantern festival China

Fireworks over the river are a nice sight. And on the lower right: the much famous in China monkey king character.

Lantern festival China

Gotta love red

Ancient culture street - Tianjin

On the back door of a popular store

Folk dances

Is possible to see folk dances during this holiday, although i wasn’t able to watch them this time I know the Lion folk dance is a custom during this holiday. This folk dance dates back to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280). According to ancient custom, the lion is the symbol of strength that protects people, so by performing this dance everyone prays for an auspicious life.

Lantern festival in China

Lantern festival in China

Lantern festival in China

Mask’s for sale. Many other kinds of mask’s and handmade traditional items were offered for sale. Interesting pieces of art but rather expensive also.

Lantern festival in China

Sometimes culture street equals to ancient shopping street, but oh well


Is great to discover local folklore. Not only adds a lot of flavor and fun to the trip, but also makes your experience unique. If you happen to be in China when this festival arrive definitively check it out.

Next festival dates

Festival happens every-year at the 15th day of the first lunar month, therefore the festival always falls on a different date:

  • 2017    February 11.
  • 2018    March 2.
  • 2019    February 19.
  • 2020    February 8.
  • 2021    February 26.

More traditional Chinese holidays (Lunar calendar)

  • Chinese new year. 1st Day of the 1st month.
  • Dragon boat festival. 5th day of the 5th month.
  • Mid-autumn festival. 15th day of the 8th month.

Where to stay in Tianjin:

If you need to stay in Tianjin and need English-speaking staff, i can strongly recommend these 3 hotels:

Have you guys visited any interesting folk festivals recently? If so let me know, drop me a line.

Leave a Reply