Imagine a night sky alight with hundreds of floating traditional Chinese lanterns. Huddled beneath them are equally hundreds of people, who have just released these flickering magical paper lanterns into the air, accompanied by individual wishes. It’s a stunning, starlight celebration – an event that happens once a year, at the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. This year it falls on March 2. Held in the small Taiwan town of Pingxi, this is the Sky Lantern Festival – one of the most colorful festivals in the world, and one you should definitely put on the top of your must-experience list. Here’s the lowdown:
What’s the Significance of the Floating Lanterns
A lot of myth and legend come together as to how this festival started, and some date back some 2,000 years. These were the times when villages invaded villages, and people would hide in the hills to avoid skirmishes. Back then, the floating lanterns were used as sort of an “all clear” to those hiding, and came to be seen as a sense of relief. Over time, though, releasing the lanterns into the sky gave way to a celebration, and each lantern carries the dreams and wishes skyward from the person who releases it. Now, as many as 100,000 paper lanterns are released up to the heavens in different shapes and sizes, and it considered not only to carry your dreams, prayers, and wishes but also to release your worries and troubles.
What Else Happens At The Festival
The festival itself is a 3-day celebration, which includes fireworks, food, music, parades, pageants, folk performances, street carnivals, and more. You can watch handmade krathong contests – a krathong is a floating sculpture made from a banana tree trunk and adorned with flowers and banana leaves in intricate designs – boat races, and air balloon contests. The aforementioned pageants are not your typical beauty pageants of swimsuits and designer dresses but instead women wear traditional costumes and perform dance routines. The actual sky lantern event starts around 6pm and goes throughout the night, consisting of eight waves of lantern releases.
What About The Food
Taiwanese cuisine is some of the tastiest in the world. Try the xiao long bao (steamed dumplings), New Year mochi (rice cake) balls including fa guei (rice cakes steamed with baking powder), and the smoky, deep-fried tofu.
About Overnight Stays
Pingxi is a pretty small town, and doesn’t have much in the way of lodging. It’s best to stay in Taipei, which is only 30 minutes away and has a lot more options.
What Else Should I Know
Taipei and the surrounding towns are so culturally rich that you can explore them without going to the festival. But the festival puts so much of the culture in context that to experience it is otherworldy. Like Mardi Gras and the Holi Carnival, this event is an awesome, life-affirming experience, and that alone makes it worth the trip.