The Yuanxiao Festival is on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month. It is closely related to the Spring Festival. In the old days, people began preparing for the Spring Festival about 20 days before. However, the Yuanxiao Festival marks the end of the New Year celebrations. And after the Yuanxiao Festival, everything returns to normal.
农历正月十五日是元宵节，紧随春节之后。古时候，人们提前二十天为“春节”做准备，然而，元宵节为春节画上了句号，元宵之后，一切归于平常。 Yuan literally means first, while Xiao refers to night. Yuanxiao is the first time when we see the full moon in the New year. It is traditionally a time for family reunion. The most prominent activity of the Yuanxiao Festival is the display of all types of beautiful lanterns. So the occasion is also called the Lantern Festival.
“元”是第一的意思，“霄”指夜晚。元宵就是新年首个夜晚，元宵节是家庭团聚的传统佳节，最隆重的活动就是展挂各种各样美丽的灯笼，故此，元宵节又叫“灯节”。 There are many beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival. But one thing for sure is that it had something to do with religious worship.
关于元宵节的起源之说多种多样，但是最确切的一种说它跟宗教信仰有关。 One legend tells 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. He had sixteen dragons at his back and call. It was him who decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine or pestilence upon human beings. Beginning with Qinshihuang, the first emperor united the country, all subsequent emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favorable weather and good health to him and to 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.
有这样一个传说，元宵节是拜“太乙”神的日子，太乙是古代的天神。古人认为天神掌管着人类世界的命运，太乙手下有九条龙听他使唤，他决定人间什么时候遭遇饥荒瘟疫之祸，什么时候受旱灾水涝之苦。从统一中国的第一个皇帝秦始皇开始，每年都举行盛大的仪式，皇帝祈求“太乙”神赐予他和臣民们风调雨顺、健康长寿。汉武帝对元宵灯会特别重视，元封七年（公元前104年），他把元宵钦定为最重要的佳庆之一,庆祝仪式通宵进行。 Another legend associated with the Lantern Festival is 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 his followers prepare various kinds of activities during which they pray for good fortune.
另一个传说认为“灯节”与道教有关。“天官”是道教的神，专管人间祥运，他出生于农历正月十五。相传“天官”喜乐，所以他的信徒们就准备了各种各样的活动，祈求好运。 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. That was in the first century. 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 journeying 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.
还有一种传说认为元宵节与佛教有关。东汉明帝时期，佛教进入中国，这也是佛教首次传入中国，然而，佛教并没有对中国人产生多大影响。一日，明帝做了个梦，梦见皇宫里有个金人，正当他准备问清这个神秘人物的身世时，金人突然升入天空，消失在西面。次日，明帝委派一位学士去印度开始了他的取经之旅，经过几千里的长途跋涉，学士终于带回了经卷。汉明帝下令建造一所寺庙供佛雕安身、收藏经书。佛徒们相信佛能驱走黑暗，所以汉明帝宣昭他的臣民们张灯结彩，这样就形成了“灯节”。 The custom of lighting lanterns continued. However, the lanterns would develop from simple ones to those of various color and shape. The scale of the celebration also increased greatly.