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Rice Article: China  

Lantern Festival: Yuan Xiao
China Daily, January 9, 2004

The Lantern Festival (or Yuan Xiao Festival in Chinese) is an important traditional Chinese festival, which is on the 15th of the first lunar month, marking the end of celebrations of the New Year.

The biggest attraction on Lantern Festival is the sea of lanterns in every conceivable size and shape. Chinese started to celebrate the Lantern Festival since the Han Dynasty (206BC-221AD), and then it became popular during the Tang and Song dynasties. This is a festival for people to have fun. On the night, people go to streets with a variety of lanterns under the full moon, watching Lion or Dragon Dance, playing Chinese riddles and games, enjoying the typical food called Yuan Xiao and setting off firecrackers. There is really a lot of fun for the young and the old.

Besides entertainment and beautiful lanterns, another important part of the Lantern Festival or Yuan Xiao Festival is eating small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour. We call these balls Yuan Xiao or Tang Yuan. Obviously, they get the name from the festival itself. Made of sticky rice flour filled with sweet stuffing and round in shape, it symbolizes family unity, completeness and happiness.

The fillings inside the dumplings or Yuan Xiao are either sweet or salty. Sweet fillings are made of sugar, Walnuts, sesame, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste. A single ingredient or any combination can be used as the filling. The salty variety is filled with minced meat, vegetables or a mixture.

The way to make Yuan Xiao also varies between northern and southern China. The usual method followed in southern provinces is to shape the dough of rice flour into balls, make a hole, insert the filling, then close the hole and smooth out the dumpling by rolling it between your hands. In North China, sweet or non-meat stuffing is the usual ingredient. The fillings are pressed into hardened cores, dipped lightly in water and rolled in a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour. A layer of the flour sticks to the filling, which is then again dipped in water and rolled a second time in the rice flour. And so it goes, like rolling a snowball, until the dumpling is the desired size.

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