Yuanxiaojie, the Lantern Festival, marks the end of the Chinese New Year / Spring Festival time.

This year, there was no way for me to be there – but a fun little opportunity to play and learn: Lego’s seasonal sets for 2021, the Year of the Ox, included a Spring Lantern Festival set.

Where their other set for 2021, the Story of Nian, shows a very Northern Chinese scene, the Spring Lantern Festival set is clearly placed in the south of the country.

The set constructs a Chinese garden scene complete with water course (with fish!), a bridge over it, a bamboo grove, moon gates in the walls around the garden, and a pavilion raised up on an outcropping of rocks.

This scenery alone is already nice, full of elements that are quite recognizably Chinese even in their Lego rendition. The pavilion, especially, is just like those one finds all across China these days.

The Lantern Festival decorations aren’t necessarily the main thing, but of course they are what makes this a set for and a scene of this celebration:

Lanterns strung between poles; lanterns attached to street lamps.

There are also banners hanging there, which are apparently a Lantern Festival tradition – and a tradition I only learned about thanks to this set. They have (trick) questions on the one side; the answers on the other.

The ox statue (with a light brick so it can be lit up) and the Lego figure-lantern (with a  transparent red “head”) aren’t exactly a tradition, but nice touches, anyways.

For some more fun playing, the garden part and the pavilion part of this set are two separate pieces that can be attached in different ways. This, of course, changes the look of the set piece a bit.

To me, the main changed look is in the microexploration potential of the set, of course: It’s not just fun to build it and a cute set to see, it’s particularly interesting to consider a bit more what is being shown – and in the first place, why there would even be special sets for Chinese New Year and who buys them.

In these times of pandemic travel restrictions, it sure has been particular fun to engage with China in this way, at the very least.