I first heard this story many moons ago when I lived in the village of Salotbaht. It was Auntie Lan who told me the story as we sat on the verandah looking up at the new moon and sharing a steaming bowl of Tang Yuan.
“In the Emperor’s palace there lived a young girl called Yuan Xiao. She missed her family terribly and longed to see them but she wasn’t allowed to leave the palace. Yuan Xiao knew how to tell stories. Everyday the young children would gather round her to hear another story. In the palace grew a large Osmanthus tree and it was under that tree she sat to tell her stories. One day as the Emperor was passing by she seized her chance,
” and then the God of Fire told me that he would burn down our city.”
The Emperor heard the words of the story and couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned at night filled with a fear that the city would be burnt to the ground. So he decided to go and ask Yuan Xiao what to do. Yuan Xiao thought for awhile and then she said,” you must trick the Fire God into thinking the city is already on fire. The Emperor took Yuan Xiao’s advice and arranged for hundreds of lanterns to be hung around the city. When night fell thousands of firecrackers were set off.
In this way clever Yuan Xiao was able to sneak off home to her family without being noticed. Before she left the palace she picked a bunch of Osmanthus flowers and when she reached home her mother was cooking her favourite sweet dumplings. Her mother was so delighted to see her that she embraced her daughter and some of the flowers fell into the dessert. Ever since then on the night of the lantern festival sweet dumplings with Osmanthus flowers have been eaten in remembrance.
The Lantern Festival falls on 14th February 2014 coinciding with Valentines Day in the West.
The first month of the lunisolar calendar is called the yuan month, and in olden times night was called xiao in Mandarin. Therefore, the day is called Yuan Xiao （元宵） Festival in China. The fifteenth day is the first full moon of that lunisolar year. According to East Asian tradition, at the beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon in the sky, there should be thousands of colorful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. At this time, people will try to solve puzzles on lanterns, eat glutinous rice balls named after the festival, yuanxiao (also known as tangyuan (simplified Chinese: 汤圆; traditional Chinese: 湯圓; pinyin: tāngyuán) and enjoy a family reunion.
This festival is also celebrated by the Chinese Thai.
I hope you have enjoyed this short tale and that you get to taste sweet dumplings with osmanthus flowers. Happy Lantern Festival to all of you !
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees