The people of Hong Kong believe that during Full Moon in February (the first of the Chinese New Year) various spirits swoop above the ground. To avoid being snatched by the ghosts, hundreds of locals take to the streets with lanterns, representing everything from dragons to Michael Jackson (!) - a beautiful spectacle.
An alternative explanation is that the lanterns help guide the spirits back to the world of the dead safely, while a separate tradition tells of the Jade Emperor (the Emperor of Heaven), who wanted to exact revenge on a man who had killed his precious goose. The Emperor planned to torch the man's property but a good spirit warned the man, telling him to hang lanterns out at the first full moon of the year: the Emperor thought the place was already on fire and left it alone.
All of these traditions celebrate good fortune, and the self-made lanterns often come with riddles attached. It is also a traditional time for young lovers to meet and date, so this auspicious time has become associated with the same feelings as Valentine's Day in the West. There is also a traditional dish for the festival: yuanxiao, a kind of sweet dumpling.
Added by reck on September 19, 2005