Insert from the National Palace Museum, Taiwan
Of the holidays celebrated throughout the year, the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month is traditionally one of the most joyful. Also known as the Minor New Year and the Yuan Xiao or Spring Lantern Festival , it’s origins go back to the Han dynasty, when Emperor Wudi worshipped the “God of Great Unity (Taiyi),” to whom he offered magnificent lanterns. The Grand event of the Lantern Festival as celebrated today not only continues such traditional activities as appreciating lanterns, solving riddles, lighting fireworks, and enjoying seasonal foods, it has also been integrated with other traditional elements as well as technology and modern life. The result is a beautiful and dazzling display that makes the atmosphere of this festival even more joyful and accessible to all.
The Sky Lantern Festival was everything you could imagine it to be, spectacular and magical, although the whole process of the night was long, confusing and exhausting.
After arriving in Taiwan the day before, my friends and I organised the next day and night so we would be prepared. Apparently there were festivals happening all over Taiwan and the biggest one would be in the South, we however were in the North so we settled in attending the one in Pingxi about 1.5hrs away from Taipei City. The transport in Taiwan is super convent and easy to use, but once you combine that with one of the biggest events in the world, it got crazy.
Getting there was pretty straight forward, once we arrived at the station at about 5pm there were already thousands of people walking along the streets. We were told that people start arriving at 10am if they wanted to actually participate in the traditional lantern realising, otherwise the event started at 5.30pm.
We were confused at where the actual lantern realising was going to be, there were no signs and mass crowds of people everywhere. There was a flow of people though, going through the streets so that was were we decided to walked. Where the train track was, on each side were shops filled with foods, souvenirs and big paper balloons. You could pay to paint a balloon and then have it released into the sky. Traditionally people wright their wishes for the new year and then once released into the sky they will come true. Each different colour of the lantern meant something and traditionally you write it in Mandarin.
It took about 15 minutes to walk to the main square, this was past hundreds of food and drinks stall. The stalls were all traditional Taiwanese foods such as stinky tofu, fried meats and various teas. Once we got to the spot that most people were watching the lanterns from we actually got split up and I was on my own. I wasn’t worried because I knew how to get back and I wanted to make the most of the night.
Where the main stage was, was still another 5 minute walk away, up the mountain and through the massive growing crowds. They released the lanterns every 30 minutes in a group and during the other times there would be performers and hosts talking to the large audience. I eventually made my way as close as I could get before the next lantern release. I can’t even describe how many people were around me, wanting the exact same thing as me, the perfect shot.
All the phones and GoPros were put on sticks and held high in the sky, luckily I had my GoPro and did the exact same thing but I got no photos on my camera. I was literally piled in with thousands of other people and there was no going back. Once the magical moment passed and the lanterns were gone I needed to figure out how to get out, luckily they had a two way walking section, I went under the ropes and started heading back.
By now it was about 7pm and there would have been millions of people everywhere. I have never been to an event with so many people. I started slowly walking back to the train because I didn’t want to get stranded. I managed to get on a train that was tightly packed with people, even more so than London or Hong Kong. After waiting 30minutes the train left and it was about 20minutes to the station that everyone got off at. I had no idea where to go but remembered I got a bus to that station so made my way back to the hostel the same way we came. After 3 hours, I got back and shortly after so did my friends.
It was a crazy, long night but a once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad I went. Some advice I would give you if you go is to plan out how to get there and back and to make sure everyone your with knows this, it is very likely you will get separated. It is best to get there very early and get a good spot to see the lanterns getting released and to also leave earlier in the night because it takes a long time to travel back into the cities. Take your camera, GoPro, GoPro sticks and phone and take as many photos as possible!
I also decided to not participate in lighting a lantern because of the environmental side, but watching was just as amazing.