How to celebrate Valentine’s Day/Chinese Lantern Festival + tangyuan recipes!

Enjoying the lanterns (such as the above) during the Chinese Lantern Festival will feel even more romantic this year, with Valentine's Day on the same day!
Enjoying the lanterns (such as the above) during the Chinese Lantern Festival will feel even more romantic this year, with Valentine’s Day on the same day!

February 14, 2014 is not your usual Valentine’s Day, because it also marks the rare occurrence of the Western holiday of Valentine’s Day and the Chinese holiday of the Lantern Festival (元宵节, yuánxiāojié) on the same day (which happens every 19 years).

Then again, in a sense, weren’t these holidays meant to be together? In China some have dubbed the Lantern Festival the real Chinese Valentine’s Day. In the past, unmarried women were not allowed to freely leave their homes. But during the Lantern Festival, they had the chance to come out with chaperones and enjoy the lanterns in public, a wonderful opportunity to meet potential romantic partners as well.

Still, I see this meeting of the two holidays as a perfect symbol of Chinese-Western cross-cultural relationships — and definitely worth celebrating in a special way! The question remains, how?

Besides the usual chocolates and roses, here in China people have decided to add a little Valentine’s Day flare to one of the Lantern Festival’s favorite treats: tangyuan. Instead of the traditional sesame or red-bean paste fillings, people are opting for rose-flavored tangyuan or chocolate tangyuan (yum!). If you’re in China, head to your local supermarket! If not, scroll down — I’ve translated a couple of recipes from online (warning: I’ve yet to try either, so attempt at your own risk!).

For me, there’s something so irresistibly romantic about light displays in the wintertime (I always loved going out with my family to enjoy the Christmas lights in Cleveland, Ohio). That’s why the perennial lantern displays all around China — and other parts of the world — could be that perfect after-dinner activity with your date or spouse. No lanterns? Consider creating your own simple version (like this) or try a Western take on the holiday by stringing up some Christmas lights (especially if you have strings of red) around the house.

How will you celebrate this unusual concurrence of the Lantern Festival and Valentine’s Day?

Wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Lantern Festival! 祝你门情人节和元宵节快乐!

Rose-Flavored Tangyuan

Translated from this original recipe (which includes excellent photos as a guide). Like my mother-in-law’s cooking, this is an intuitive recipe. No exact amounts are provided, so use your judgment and palate to guide you!


Glutinous rice flour (sold in Chinese supermarkets)
Dried edible roses
White sugar

1. Wash and then dry out the edible roses, and then remove the stems. Place the petals in a bowl.

2. Add white sugar to the bowl according to taste and preference. Mix the sugar and petals together to create a powder.

3. Add honey according to taste and preference.

4. Mix together the honey and powder to create the rose paste for the tangyuan. Set this aside.

5. Wash the strawberries, then soak them in water with a dash of salt for 15 minutes.

6. Remove the strawberries from the salt water soak and place them in a blender. Whisk the strawberries to create a juice.

7. In a saucepan, heat the strawberry juice until warm.

8. Mix the warm strawberry juice with glutinous rice flour, carefully adding just enough flour until you can knead the dough — but not so much that the dough is too dry and falls apart. Knead the dough into a round shape.

9. To prepare the rose filling, mix a little glutinous rice flour into the rose paste.

10. Take a piece of dough, roll it into a round shape and then flatten it. In the middle of the flattened shape, spoon a small amount of rose paste.

11. Slowly close the dough over the paste, then roll it into a round tangyuan shape.

12. Boil the tangyuan until they float. Remove and serve in a bowl.

Chef’s notes:

1. To give the tangyuan a more romantic pink color, I used strawberry juice in the tangyuan. It not only gives the tangyuan a slight pink color but also adds that sweet, fragrant strawberry flavor.

2. By warming the strawberry juice before mixing it with the flour, the dough is more soft and also will be less likely to split open during the process of rolling the tangyuan. No need to boil the strawberry juice, just heat until warm.

3. When adding the honey to the rose paste I added a little more and the mixture was too watery, so I later added glutinous rice flour to the paste to make it easier to fill the tangyuan.

4. Don’t add too much filling, otherwise the tangyuan will easily leak.

5. If it is too difficult for you to create the tangyuan, just directly mix the rose paste and the dough together, roll into balls and then boil them. It’s also delicious!

Romantic Valentine’s Day Chocolate Tangyuan

Translated from this recipe, which includes photos to guide you.


400 grams glutinous rice flour
52 grams of Dove-brand chocolates
180 grams of non-gluten flour (such as rice flour)
Dragonfruit peels

1. Prepare the dragonfruit.

2. Remove the peel from the fruit, then slice the peel into thin strips.

3. Place the sliced dragonfruit peel into a blender and blend into a juice.

4. Using a filter to filter out the impurities, pour the juice into a bowl. Set aside.

5. Add the non-gluten flour to a new bowl, then pour in boiled water and quickly stir it together.

6. Add the glutinous rice flour.

7. Pour in the dragonfruit juice to the glutinous rice flour and mix together.

8. Even the mixture into a smooth round of dough.

9. Prepare the chocolate.

10. Pound the chocolate into small pieces.

11. Separate the dough into small pieces. Each piece should be moulded into a nest shape.

12. Add a chocolate piece/pieces in the center of the nest, and then fold the dough over and close it up into a round shape.

13. Repeat the process of nesting chocolate into the pieces of dough until all of the tangyuan are finished.

14. Place cold water in a pot and then boil the tangyuan. When the tangyuan float, they are ready to serve.

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12 Replies to “How to celebrate Valentine’s Day/Chinese Lantern Festival + tangyuan recipes!”

  1. Lantern Festival in China is known as ‘Chap Goh Meh’ here in Malaysia which, in Hokkien, literally means the 15th day of the new lunar year and is regarded as the last day of CNY. We also regard it as the Chinese Valentine’s Day!

    We are aware though, that our counterparts in Mainland China regard the 7th day of the 7th lunar month as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. So there could be a little confusion here.

    Further, Lantern Festival to Chinese Malaysians falls on Moon Cake Festival Day!

    In Penang, Chap Goh Meh is often celebrated in a big way. Damsels would throw kam or Mandarin oranges into the sea in the belief that it will help them find their soul-mates. We don’t eat tangyuan on this day though. The tangyuan featured in the recipes look tempting!

  2. Mmmm! I haven’t had these since I was little. My mom made grape-sized ones and boiled them in a syrup of brown sugar and ginger. Probably the peasant version, but delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipes and best wishes to you too on this special double holiday!

  3. We don’t usually celebrate Valentine’s day in Austria (when I told the Chinese I taught in Austria they were quite disappointed that we don’t). My husband told me that we have to sleep somewhere else than at home tonight – I was quite confused at first and thought this is connected to Valentine’s day, but actually it’s connected to 元宵节 and a custom that on this day in the first year of your marriage you’re not supposed to sleep at home. Sleeping at a friend’s place or hotel is okay, but I guess with me being jet lagged and pregnant and hotels being overpriced since it’s Valentine’s day, we’ll skip this custom in favor of a good night’s sleep.

    1. That’s so cool! My husband didn’t say anything about this tradition, I would’ve loved to stay at a hotel tonight! (One with a Jacuzzi and a king size bed with more pillows than can be counted!)

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