Dragon lanterns at night

Ring in the Lunar New Year in Toronto with Lantern Festivals

Published: February 19, 2024

In the heart of winter, Toronto is the place to celebrate the Lunar New Year! Among the many other festivities, the Lunar New Year comes to its climax with the Yuan Xiao (元宵节 / yuán xiāo jié) or Lantern Festival, celebrated on February 24, 2024. Beginning over 2000 years ago, the festival has many meanings for everyone; it celebrates family reunions and society. UP Express is proud to connect families to their loved ones with new extended service hours and trains operating every 15 minutes. Get ready to ring in the Lunar New Year with the beautiful Lantern Festivals happening in Toronto and worldwide.

What is the Chinese Lantern Festival?

Child on shoulders of an adult at Lantern Festival

On the 15th day of the first lunar month, two weeks after Chinese New Year, the Chinese Lantern Festival is celebrated. It marks the first full moon of the Lunar New Year and the end of the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) period. Lantern Festivals have been popular in various Asian countries for hundreds of years and recently, have also started popping up in Western countries, including Canada. As its name suggests, this dazzling event is marked with intricate and artistic lanterns that symbolize people letting go of the past year and welcoming a bright and prosperous year ahead. When many people think of Chinese lanterns, they imagine round and red lanterns. While this type of lantern is present, the lanterns involved in the Lantern Festivals are quite different. They are large and built into every imaginable colour and shape, typically depicting real and imaginary animals. Prepare to be amazed by the variety of lanterns!

Origins and History of the Lantern Festival

Dragon lanterns at night

The Lantern Festival has roots extending over 2000 years into ancient Chinese traditions. The festivals inception is often attributed to the Han Dynasty. Legend has it that Emperor Hanmingdi initiated the lighting of lanterns of the 15th day of the first lunar month to pay homage to the Buddha. Additionally, the festival intertwines with the mythical tale of “Nian”, a fearsome beast that would terrorize villages every New Year’s Eve. To ward off Nian, communities began hanging red lanterns and creating loud noises. Over the centuries, this evolved into the grand spectacle that we witness today, with lanterns of various shapes and sizes on streets and public spaces, creating a sense of joy and unity.

Food During Lantern Festival Celebrations

Bowl of pink tangyuan

No festive celebration is complete without delicious food and the Lantern Festival is no exception! In Chinese culture, tangyuan, balls of glutinous rice, take centre stage for the occasion. They are rice dumplings with sweet fillings made of syrup or red or black bean paste. They can be steamed or fried, but they’re usually boiled and served in a soup. Chinese culture believes that the round shape of the balls and bowls symbolizes wholeness and togetherness. Apart from tangyuan, other traditional treats include niangao (sweet glutinous rice cake), spring rolls and an assortment of dumplings. The emphasis on round and sweet foods signifies the coming together of family and the sweetness that life holds.

Lantern Festivals in Toronto

Various lanterns hanging in a market

In the multicultural city of Toronto, Lunar New Year is embraced, and the Lantern Festival has become a centrepiece of the celebrations. Every year, you can head to the heart of Chinatown, where the Toronto Chinatown BIA hosts many Lunar New Year events. Among the events is the spectacular lanterns hung at the entrance of the Dragon City Mall. If you’re looking to head outside of downtown Toronto, head to LunarFest GTA at Varley Art Gallery of Markham to explore the Lunar Lanterns in the courtyard from January to March, created in partnership with Indigenous artists.

Are you looking for more Lunar New Year activities this year? We’ve got you covered with all the Lunar New Year events across Toronto, the GTA and some ideas for around the world!

Lantern Festivals Around the World

Lanterns flying into the sky at night at the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Lantern Festival celebrations continue to illuminate cities around the world. If you’re looking for an adventure to celebrate the Lunar New Year, head to Pearson Airport from UP Express Union Station in only 25 minutes, operating 7 days a week with service until 1 am and trains every 15 minutes. If you’re looking for an international adventure in Taiwan, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival takes enchantment to new heights, quite literally. Thousands of sky lanterns are released into the night sky, carrying with them the wishes of those who release them. In Singapore, the River Hongbao Festival transforms the Marina Bay area into a spectacle. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are released alongside a dazzling display of fireworks. Closer to home, every year Vancouver hosts The Lantern City on Granville Island, Jack Poole Plaza and the Square North of the Vancouver Art Gallery displaying unique installations from local artists. cross the globe, Lantern Festivals manifest in diverse forms, each a unique expression of cultural identity and communal celebration. From China to Taiwan, Singapore to Canada, the common thread that ties these celebrations together is the symbolic illumination of hope and renewal as communities welcome the Lunar New Year.

As we get ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year, don’t forget to take in the Lantern Festivals, whether it’s across the world or in Toronto. Much more than a mere visual spectacle, the festival serves as a celebration of unity, family, and the collective hope for a brighter year ahead. So, gather your loved ones, indulge in the traditional treats, and bask in the warm glow of lanterns as you ring in the Lunar New Year in Toronto or wherever you may be. Wishing you a warm and prosperous Lunar New Year!