Yi Peng, Thailand

Lantern Festivals Around the World

Lantern festivals originated more than 2000 years ago and today they bring people of different faiths and countries together in celebration of life. While the reasons may vary, these festivals are a symbol of hope, peace and harmony. Lighting the lanterns is accompanied with dance, music, fireworks and scrumptious food, along with general goodwill and cheer. Listed here are some of the best lantern festivals around the world.

Loi Krathong and Yi Peng, Thailand

Floating krathongs and lanterns, Thailand
credit@ Mashable SEA

Loi Krathong is celebrated by the Thais on the evening of the full moon in the Thai Lunar Calendar. The festival is celebrated all over Thailand for a couple of reasons. One of them is to celebrate the peoples’ relationship with water- Thai people have been involved with rivers for centuries as it is an agriculture-based country. To pay tribute to the river goddess Pra Mae Khongkha, krathongs (small containers made of leaves and adorned with flowers) are made and floated across water bodies. Another reason is that people believe to take the moment to leave behind misfortunes, past sins and wish for good luck in the next year. Small bits of cloth, nail clippings and strands of hair are also released along with the krathongs to release the past. Yi Peng is the lantern festival celebrated along with Loi Krathong. More about floating lanterns than floating krathongs, lanterns are lit and sent up into the sky. Other events include dance performances, fireworks, beauty contests, parades and krathong- making competitions.

The best places to witness the splendour of the event is Bangkok, Sukhothai (considered as the birth place of Loi Krathong) and Chiang Mai. It usually falls in November, but the exact date is announced a month prior to the event.

Rise Lantern Festival, Las Vegas

Rise Festival, Las Vegas
credit@ RISE Festival

First held in 2014, Rise has become one of the most popular lantern festivals in the world. Thousands gather at the Jean Dry Lake Bed in Mojave, Las Vegas, to release paper lanterns into the sky. The event is held to help people ‘rise’- to help them go through difficult times together as a community. Each participant will receive a paper lantern and marker. When the sun sets, messages, hopes and dreams are written on the lantern and released into the air. Their loved ones are also honoured. Simply put, the event aids community healing through a collective experience. Besides the lanterns, live music and food is also part of Rise. The lanterns are designed in such a way that they burn for just a low amount of time, and when they come back down, they are cleaned by the organizers themselves. The lanterns are also biodegradable.

This year, the event is to be held as such- October 1st (Friday) and October 2nd (Saturday). Friday tickets cost $84 and for Saturday, the tickets are $99. For children, it costs $69. The venue is 25 miles south of Las Vegas. If you’re coming from the south, take exit 12 for Jean Goodsprings and signs will direct you to the venue. Or if you’re coming from the north, exit 25 will lead you to the venue, aided by signs. As Covid-19 precautions, social distancing, masks and temperature checks are included.

Diwali, India

Diwali, India
credit@ Pinterest

One of the main festivals celebrated in India, Diwali, is the festival of lights. The festival is a symbol of good presiding over evil. In some regions, it is a celebration of Lord Rama’s defeat of Ravana. Different religions have their own versions of Diwali- the Jains celebrate it to mark Mahavira’s final liberation, Hindus in Bangladesh and Eastern India worship goddess Kali during Diwali and Sikhs mark the event by celebrating Bandi Chhor Divas to commemorate Guru Hargobind’s release from a Mughal Empire prison. The preparations start a few days prior to the actual festival. People clean and decorate their homes and workplaces with rangolis and oil lamps. On that day, people light up their lamps and wear their best clothes. Ceremonies and offerings are held to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. Fireworks are lit and sweets and gifts are exchanged. Diwali usually comes between mid- October and mid- November.

Marine Day Lantern Festival, Tokyo

Marine Day Lantern Festival, Tokyo
credit@ Pinterest

Marine Day is a national holiday in Japan, celebrated by arranging hundreds of colourful paper lanterns on the Odaiba Sea front in Tokyo. The festival is known as Umi no Akari Matsuri in Japan. First celebrated in 1941, the festival marked the return of the Meiji Emperor in 1876 to the port of Yokohama. During those times, the festival was known as Marine Memorial Day. 120 years later, it was changed to celebrate and worship the ocean. Held in the Odiaba Beach Front Park, the theme of the design of the paper lanterns changes every year. The shore also offers a great view of the Rainbow Bridge, from where you can watch the colourful spectacle. The lanterns aren’t the only lights- candles will be lit on yakatabune (traditional long boats which also act as restaurant boats). There are also plenty of food and drink stalls at the venue.

Each year, the Marine Day Lantern Festival is held on the third Monday of July. Odaiba Beach is just a three-minute walk from Yurikamome’s Odaiba Beach Park Station. If you get down at the Rinkai Line’s Tokyo Teleport Station, it takes less than seven minutes to get to the beach.

Floating Lantern Festival, Washington DC

Lanterns set afloat on water, Washington DC
credit@ waterlanternfestival

The Floating Lantern Festival in Washington DC celebrates life, love, connection, unity, peace, hope and happiness. Here, the lanterns aren’t released into the air but set afloat on water. The lanterns send the message of hope and peace. Messages are written on the lantern.

The venue is at the National Harbor South Pointe, easily accessible by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The event is usually held in August. In 2021, the date is set on August 8th. The ticket prices vary according to the day you purchase them. If you’re early, they cost $25.99, if you’re not too late, they cost $35.99, if you’re late, then they cost $45.99 and if you’re purchasing the ticket on the day of the event, you’ll have to pay $55. 99. Earlier, the better! Each ticket will include a wristband for entering the venue, a floating lantern kit, LED candle, marker and a commemorative drawstring bag. The money you pay for the ticket also includes the cost of retrieving the lantern and collecting any waste that may have occurred during the festival.

Hoi An Lantern Festival, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
credit@ Jacky Vietnam Travel

The Hoi An Lantern Festival is celebrated on the fourteenth day of each Lunar month, on the night of the full moon. The full moon is considered to be one of the most sacred nights of Buddha’s life. The Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and the departure from the earth occurred on the same day. So, according to Buddhists, the day of the full moon should be used for reflecting upon one’s own life and relationships and honoring ancestors.

The main venues are the banks of the Hoai River, Cau An Hoi Bridge and the Japanese Covered Bridge. Colourful paper lanterns are released into the air and also se afloat on water. The candles lit within the lanterns signifies prayers and hopes for peace and health. To increase the focus and prominence of the lanterns, electricity is minimally used during the festival. The river banks thrive with drums, dance performances, flutes, poetry and Bai Choi (card games).

Pingxi Lantern Festival, Taiwan

Lanterns at the Pingxi Lantern Festival, Taiwan
credit@ TripAdvisor

The Pingxi Lantern Festival in Taiwan is celebrated on the first full moon of the Lunar month. Prominent since the 1990s, the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau wanted to celebrate folklore. So, along with the lanterns, many other traditions came to be. In the town of Pingxi, the night of the full moon is marked by lighting hundreds of lanterns into the sky. The lanterns were initially used by the people to let their families know they were safe. Nowadays, the lanterns signify people’s hopes and dreams for the coming year. Often, the Taiwanese write their wishes for a good harvest. While lanterns are lit in the north, the southern district employs fireworks to mark the occasion. The Tainan Yanshuei Fireworks Display (also deemed to be one of the most dangerous fireworks displays in the world) denotes driving evil away from the town and its people. Thousands of firecrackers light up the night sky. Both events go hand in hand, and together are known as ‘Fireworks in the South, Sky Lanterns in the North.’ Till 2001, the festival was held exclusively at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park in Taipei. Now it is celebrated all over Taiwan.

The festival is usually held from February to March. The dates vary according to the lunar calendar.

Spring Lantern Festival, China

Lanterns released during the Spring Festival, China
credit@ teahub.io

The Spring Lantern Festival in China is celebrated on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month. The festival denotes the end of the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, more than 2000 years ago, the emperor, Hanmingdi, believed in Buddhism. When he heard of monks lighting lanterns in the temple on the night of the full moon, he too advocated the practice. Hence, the royal palace, households and temples lit lanterns to commemorate the day, and it soon grew to be a festival. And as China has various ethnic groups and clans, the celebrations vary. It includes lighting lanterns and setting them afloat, lighting fireworks, solving riddles written on the lanterns, dragon and lion dances, walking on stilts and eating tangyuan (Chinese dessert). The lanterns come in various shapes and sizes, like traditional globes, dragons, goats and fish. The Chinese symbols for birds, animals and buildings are drawn on the lanterns.

The festival usually falls in February or early March. This year, the festival is on 26th February, Friday.

Shinnyo Lantern Floating, Hawaii

Lanterns set afloat, Hawaii
credit@ Honolulu Star Advertiser

The Shinnyo Lantern Floating in Hawaii is an annual event held to honour the dead and bring fortune to the living during the coming years. Approximately 50,000 individuals attend the event from all over the world. The festival brings together communities to remember and offer gratitude to their ancestors, reflect upon their lives and relationships and pray for a prosperous future. Hawaii has a diverse population, each with its own traditions. On this Memorial Day, communities come today. Flowers and offerings are placed on the gravestones of ancestors. Along with this comes the lanterns set afloat on water- this is to bring hope for the present and future and to honour all those who have passed away by any manner of death- war, water-related accident, famine or any disaster. Flowers are also scattered into the water.

The ceremony was held at Ala Moana Beach. This year, the festival is on May 31, 2021. There are busses every few minutes from Kuhio Ave to the beach park.

St. John’s Night, Poland

St. John's Night with lanterns
credit@ Poland. pl

St. John’s Night or Kupala Night in Poland is one of the most sacred holidays in Poland. The celebrations mark the summer solstice. Traditional pagan rituals included jumping through fires with herbs to purify the soul and to seek protection from evil. Young girls would release wreaths ablaze with fire into the water for a good marriage. Another custom was the search for the fern flower. According to legend, only the bravest of souls could find it.

The pagan rituals died with the Church’s intervention. Now, the eve of St. John the Baptist is celebrated from sunset on June 23rd. A few old customs coupled with newer ones are used to mark the occasion. Fires are lit, fireworks adorn the night sky, accompanied by dancing and singing. The thousands of lanterns deployed into the sky are one of the recent traditions.

It is easy to feel giddy with excitement at the prospect of attending a lantern festival. However, keep in mind that the dates vary according to the lunar calendar and now, of course, due to Covid-19. Check the dates and then go light up the night with a lantern!

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