The History of the Paper Lantern

16/02/2017 Celebrations,

Paper lanterns originate from the Eastern Han Dynasty which reigned in China from 25 – 220AD. They were originally used as lamps and combined a range of crafts and materials, with paper and silk being the most common. The paper was embellished using a variety of techniques including paper cutting, pricking, steaming and painting.


Records show that the origin of the Lantern Festival derives from when the monks used paper lanterns in their worship of Buddha in the 12th day of the first lunar month of the year.


During the Tang Dynasty from 618 – 907AD, people made lanterns to celebrate their peaceful life whilst the magnificent public displays symbolised and celebrated a prosperous, strong and powerful country. The traditional colour for these lanterns was red which is reflected in many of the modern day Chinese New Year festivals around the world in all the major cities where there is a large Chinese ex-pat community, such as in London and New York.


In 2017 the Lantern Festival was celebrated on February 11th. Traditional paper lanterns used bamboo for the framework but in most modern-day manufacturing this has been replaced by wire, although we do have a range of bamboo lanterns.


For the best examples of Lantern Festivals visit Beijing, Nanjing, Xian, Shanghai and Hangzhou.


In recent years, paper lanterns which are lit by candles and released have become unpopular due to environmental and health & safety concerns. We prefer to light all our paper lanterns using mains electricity or LED lights.


Paper lanterns, originating from Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), mainly were used as lamps in ancient China. A variety of crafts were used in their making such as Chinese paintings, paper-cutting, and pricking and seaming and many kinds of materials such as bamboo, wood, wheat-straw and metal were used in their manufacture. Paper and silk were the major materials.


Originally, monks used lanterns on the twelfth day of the first lunar month in their worship of the Buddha. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, the Emperor Liu Zhuang was a Buddhist and he ordered the inhabitants of the imperial palace and citizens to light lanterns to worship the Buddha just as the monks did. Later, this custom gradually became a grand festival among common people. During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), people made lanterns to celebrate their peaceful life while the splendid illuminations symbolized and celebrated the prosperous, strong and powerful country. From then on, lighting lanterns became popular in the country.


Once used for lighting before the introduction of gas and then electricity, lanterns are now merely decorative or more significantly used during the yearly Lantern Festival.


Some of the old customs have been retained such as decorating the lanterns with riddles. The person who solves the riddle received a prize. It is also traditional for uncles to give their nephews a paper lantern as a good luck token. And children still enjoy holding a paper lantern so they can play outside with their friends at night-time during the Lantern Festival.