Highchair Travelers: Lantern Riddles for the Moon Festival

Lantern Riddles featured copyThis year the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, lands on September 8th. Other years we’ve shown you how to make real Coconut Mooncakes or the highly inauthentic but very delicious American Mooncakes to celebrate this great Chinese holiday. This year we are featuring another traditional aspect of the Moon Festival–lantern riddles.

The practice of lighting lanterns for the festival is believed to be based on the practice of monks lighting lanterns in honor of the Buddha, but the meaning and use of the lanterns has expanded over the centuries. In modern-day China, the streets are full of colorful paper lanterns during the festival, and a favorite pasttime is creating and deciphering Lantern Riddles. These are complicated word puzzles written by the lantern’s owner and attached to the lantern on strips of paper. Neighbors stroll the streets reading the riddles and attempting to decipher them. If they solve the puzzle correctly they can return the slip of paper to its author and receive a small gift.

Chinese lantern riddles are incredibly hard to crack, since the very nature of characters makes complicated and brain-bending puns, double meanings and homonyms much more common than in English. This also makes the riddles nearly impossible to translate effectively into English. For example, one riddle was translated for me as:

  • Q: Live in the Autumn Moon?
  • A: Victory is in sight.

Um, okay then.

But at least the idea of the game can be transferred fairly easily, even if our riddles are laughably easy compared to ones in Mandarin. Kids especially get a kick out of solving or creating their own lanterns and lantern riddles, and it also makes for a fantastic and free party game/decoration.

First day of school 034Paper Chinese lanterns have to be one of the easiest and most ubiquitous of kids’ crafts, but they are popular for a reason. Simple enough for even very young children, they can also be created on a large scale so you can have enough riddles for a whole house full of guests.

Simply fold a piece of red cardstock in half width-wise, and cut parallel lines through the fold to within two inches of the edge. Then unfold, shape into a cylinder and glue or staple shut.

First day of school 027Add a handle and any decorative touches your kids like, and there’s your lantern.

String a dozen of them along a garland, hang them from light fixtures or in windows or even let them dangle on fish line from the ceiling. They create a fun ambiance and provide entertainment as people try to solve the riddles and win the prizes.

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 中秋快乐! Zhōngqiū kuàilè!

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!


Want more ideas for celebrating the Moon Festival and learning more about China? Check out the rest of our China posts here and our China Pinterest page.