When You Wish Upon A Lantern
By Stephanie Bowman
Imagine looking up in wonder as you see thousands of wishes floating up toward the night sky, each one wrapped up in a ball of amber light. They eventually create a radiant blanket, overpowering the night’s darkness until finally becoming distant pinpoints concealed in the night’s dusk. This magical scene is experienced at sky lantern festivals around the world. For years, people have lit and released paper lanterns in hopes of sending their wishes up to the heavens, or for some, warding off bad spirits. The most popular festivals occur in Asia, causing thousands of tourists to flock to the continent each year. After gaining a bad reputation due to the fire hazards they pose, many states in the U.S. have banned their use altogether. Since it’s likely that you won’t be seeing any sky lanterns in the US of A, you can always travel to the following festivals to experience one for yourself:
Chinese Lantern Festival
Falling on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the Lantern Festival marks the end of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations. Though there are many different tales about the origins of this festival, they all involve the desire of good fortune and health. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung outside of homes and paraded down the streets. Riddles, which have become an essential part of the festival, are included in some lanterns, luring riddle-loving visitors to the lantern owner’s doorstep. Should the speculator solve the riddle correctly, they are rewarded with a small gift. Traditional dishes, customary lantern dances and magnificent fireworks are also important elements of this festival.
Chiang Mai Yi (Yee) Peng Festival
This festival of lights takes place in Northern Thailand and typically occurs in early winter—though the exact dates are released just a few weeks before the event. The local celebration of Yi Peng is a religious ceremony that pays homage to the late Buddha. During the festival, onlookers are entertained by traditional Thai dances, beauty pageants and firework shows. But the final spectacle, the release of the lanterns, is the most mesmerizing facet of the entire event. While making a wish, people release thousands of paper lanterns into the sky, transforming it into a sea of lanterns. From local monks to tourists traversing from all over the world to experience it, everyone leaves taking the extraordinary moment when the lanterns turn into bright orange stars with them.
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
In an effort to bring their country’s traditions onto an international stage, The Tourism Bureau began scheduling numerous festival-related events all over Taiwan, making this jamboree the country’s major tourist attraction. Rated one of the best festivals in the world by The Discovery Channel, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in Taiwan is one you won’t want to miss. From folk performances, lantern riddle contests and street carnivals, it’s not surprising that this festival appears on every “must see” travel list. During the event, thousands of lanterns are released simultaneously, taking people’s wishes along with them. It is believed that by making a wish during the launch, the wish will rise up into the heavens, resulting in a priority delivery to God. Skeptic or not, one thing that can’t be denied is the beauty created by thousands of lanterns covering up the night’s sky.
All of these festivals have one similarity: Their magic is undeniable. If it’s impossible for you to experience all three, make sure you promise yourself you’ll witness at least one in your lifetime.