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Story about the Origin of Lantern Festival

One legend tells us that it was a time to worship Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times. The belief was that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. Beginning with Qinshihuang, all subsequent emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year to ask Taiyi to bring favorable weather and good health to him and his people. Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty directed special attention to this event. In 104 BC,he proclaimed it one of the most important celebrations and the ceremony would last throughout the night.
Another legend associates the Lantern Festival with Taoism. Tianguan is the Taoist god responsible for good fortune. His birthday falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It is said that Tianguan likes all types of entertainment. So followers prepare various kinds of activities during which they pray for good fortune.
The third story about the origin of the festival goes like this. Buddhism first entered China during the reign of Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han Dynasty. However, it did not exert any great influence among the Chinese people. one day, Emperor Mingdi had a dream about a gold man in his palace. At the very moment when he was about to ask the mysterious figure who he was, the gold man suddenly rose to the sky and disappeared in the west. The next day, Emperor Mingdi sent a scholar to India on a pilgrimage to locate Buddhist scriptures. After joumeying thousands of miles,the scholar finally returned with the scriptures. Emperor Mingdi ordered that a temple be built to house a statue of Buddha and serve as a repository for the scriptures. Followers believe that the power of Buddha can dispel darkness. So Emperor Mingdi ordered his subjects to display lighted lanterns during what was to become the Lantern Festival.
Yet another common legend dealing with the origins of the Lantern Festival speaks of a beautiful bird that flew down to earth from heaven, which was hunted and killed by some villagers. This angered the Jade Emperor in Heaven because the bird was his favorite one. Therefore, he planned a storm of fire to destroy the village on the 15th lunar day. The Jade Emperor's daughter heard of this plan, and warned the villagers of her father’s plan to destroy their village. A wise man from another village suggested that every family should hang red lanterns around their houses, set up bonfires on the streets, and explode firecrackers on the 14th, 15th, and 16th lunar days. This would give the village the appearance of being on fire to the Jade Emperor. On the 15th lunar day, troops sent down from heaven whose mission was to destroy the village saw that the village was already ablaze, and returned to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor. Satisfied, the Jade Emperor decided not to burn down the village. From that day on, people celebrate the anniversary on the 15th lunar day every year by carrying red lanterns on the streets and exploding firecrackers and fireworks.

One other story is about a maid. In the Han Dynasty, Mr. Eastern was a favorite advisor of the emperor. One winter day, he went to the garden and saw a little girl getting to commit suicide. Mr. Eastern stopped her and asked why. She said she was a maid in the emperor's palace and her name was Yuan-Xiao. She missed her family so much that she'd rather die if she couldn't see her family. Mr. Eastern promised her to find a way so she could reunion with her family. Mr. Eastern left the palace and disguised himself as a fortuneteller. Many people asked for their fortunes, but every one got the same prediction - a severe fire accident on the 15th lunar day. The rumor spread quickly. Everyone was worried about the future and asked Mr. Eastern for help. Mr. Eastern said, "On the 13th lunar day, the God of Fire will send a fairy lady in red to burn down the city. If you see a lady in red wearing green pants riding a black horse on that day, you should ask for her mercy." On that day, Yuan-Xiao pretended to be the red fairy lady. When people asked for her help, she said, "I'm the messenger of the God of Fire and came to check on the city and I'm going to set up fire on 15th. This is an order from Jade Emperor. He will watch from the heavens. I will give you a copy of the imperial decree from the God of Fire. You should go to ask your emperor to find a way out." After she left, people went to the palace to show the emperor the decree which reads "The capital city is in trouble. Fire burns on the palace, and fire from Heaven burns all night long on the 15th." The emperor of Han Dynasty was very shocked. He called and asked Mr. Eastern for advice. After pondering for a while, Mr. Eastern said, "I heard that the God of Fire likes to eat Tang-Yuan (Sweet dumpling). Let Yuan-Xiao make Tang-Yuan and give an order to every house to prepare Tang-Yuan to worship the God of Fire at the same time. Also, deliver another order to ask every house in the city to hang red lantern and explode fire crackers. Lastly, everyone in the palace and people outside the city should carry their lanterns on the street to watch the lantern decoration and fireworks. If everything goes this way, the Jade Emperor would be deceived. Then everyone can avoid the fire accident." The emperor happily followed the plan. Lanterns were everywhere, people were walking on the street. Fire crackers kept making lots of noise. It looked like the entire city was on fire. Yuan-Xiao's parents went into the palace to watch the lantern decorations. They happily reunited together. Everybody was safe during the night. The emperor of Han Dynasty had a new order that people should do the same thing every year. Since Yuan-Xiao cooked the best Tan-Yuan, people called the day Yuan-Xiao Festival.

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