Your Guide to Attending Some of the Best Lantern Festivals Around the World
Experience the Beauty of a Festival of Light
Lantern festivals happen all around the world for several different reasons. In all instances, they are beautiful festivals of light that are worth experiencing in all their different forms. We’ve compiled our top tips for enjoying lantern festivals and some of the best lantern festivals at which to witness this beautiful sight.
In most occasions, lantern festivals are not just tourist attractions designed to entertain. Rather, they are typically associated with a deeper spiritual meaning. Lighting lanterns is usually meant to bring prosperity to those who participate and also serve as a way to pay tribute to dearly departed loved ones.
Origins of the Lantern Festival
There are many different theories about the origins of lantern festivals around the world. It is believed to go back to more than 2,000 years ago in China where paper lanterns were lit first by Buddhist monks in the temples and later by people from all social classes.
The exact meaning the lanterns originally held is debatable. Some think they were meant to celebrate the end of the darkness of winter, whereas others believe they originated as a way to celebrate deceased loved ones. Nowadays, there are modern interpretations of these ancient traditions that take on many forms from traditional to animal shapes and cartoon characters, and you’ll see flying lanterns, floating lanterns and everything in between.
How to Participate
At most of the lantern festivals, you can join in on the festivities by purchasing lanterns and lighting them yourself. Whether you are flying a lantern into the sky in Thailand, or letting it float away into the sea in Hawaii, there’s something truly special about participating directly in one of these amazing festivals.
Depending on where you are celebrating you may choose to dress the part by wearing red in China, or donning traditional Thai clothing in Thailand, however, wearing your normal clothing is usually just fine.
The festivities are typically kid-friendly. In fact, our 3-year-old daughter was delighted to watch the lanterns at the most recent Yi Peng lantern festival in Thailand. However, the festivals can tend to get more raucous as the night goes on, so it’s suggested to show up early (usually around dusk) if you are traveling with kids in tow.
Where to Celebrate Lantern Festivals Around the World
The Spring Lantern Festival in China happens at the end of Chinese New Year each year. It is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, and as such falls on the 15th of the first lunar month of the year. It’s typically celebrated by enjoying the beautiful lantern displays while chowing down on some traditional food such as dumplings and glutinous rice balls.
There are plenty of reasons to travel to Northern Thailand’s beautiful mountain city of Chiang Mai. In addition to numerous temples to explore and gorgeous views in every direction, the city is home to one of the most amazing lantern festivals in the world, Yi Peng, usually celebrated during November each year.
You’ll find people lighting paper flying lanterns into the sky by the thousands and simultaneously find floating candles being placed in the river in what combines to make a stunning display of lights. The festival is celebrated over three days and includes other festivities including Buddhist ceremonies and a fun-filled parade that closes out the festival each year.
In Taiwan you’ll find another sky lantern festival. The tradition originates from a time when the lanterns were used to ask for sons to farm the land and for a fruitful harvest. The annual release now has a more general meaning of prosperity and hope for the future.
During the release, performances and various other traditions are carried out throughout the night making for a festival worth taking the trip to see.
Every year in Hawaii, thousands of lanterns are put out to sea to pay tribute to deceased loved ones. You can float a lantern in remembrance of your own dearly departed or can send off lanterns with messages for happiness, peace or well-wishes for the future.
If you are looking to stay a bit closer to home, you may be surprised to find that you can also attend lantern festivals in the continental United States. While a number of larger U.S. cities such as New York City and San Francisco have hosted lantern festivals for decades, many smaller cities have caught onto the idea, many times with the idea of drumming up a bit of tourism.
Nowadays you can find smaller lantern festivals in the likes of cities such as Memphis, TN; Dallas, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Miami, FL; Salt Lake City, Utah; Philadelphia, PA; Albuquerque, NM; and Atlanta, GA.