It’s Lights On For Taiwan’s Lantern Festival

Every year many colourful celebrations are organised in Taiwan. The most spectacular of them all is the Lantern Festival.

The origins of the Lantern Festival are obscure. According to traditional beliefs of the Chinese people it’s during the 15th night of the first lunar month, the eve when the moon is full for the first time in the new year, that celestial spirits can be seen flitting though the skies.

In order for people to spot the spirits especially when the moon was masked with clouds or fog on that special night they carried flickering torches.

Over time these were replaced by lanterns. The event evolved into a festival that in modern times not only marks the close of joyous New Year’s festivities but is a highlight for many foreign tourists.

Locally known as the Shang Yuan Festival, the Lantern Festival is also called Little New Year as it marks the end of a series of springtime celebrations starting from Chinese New Year.

While the single most important day of the festival falls on the 15th days of the first lunar month, many towns and cities hold lighting ceremonies in advance of the day in order to showcase the many colourful and often ornate lanterns that have been made by hand.

Using bamboo or balsa wood frames covered with tissue paper and then carefully decorated with images of birds, animals or mythical figures, the fragile lanterns are actually glowing works of art.

Though celebrations take place throughout this prosperous Asian nation, the biggest events are the Sky Lantern Festival in northern Taiwan and the Rocket Hives Festival in southern Taiwan.

Each year at the beginning of the Lantern Festival, the town of Yenshui in southern Taiwan comes to life at nightfall with the tremendous roar and crack of fireworks emanating from so-called “rocket hives”.

These multiple launchers of “bottle” rockets contain thousands of fireworks arranged in an iron and wooden beehive shaped box. When the contraption is ignited, rockets shoot out in all directions.

In the country’s sophisticated capital, the Taipei Lantern Festival, held annually in beautiful parklands surrounding the dazzling Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, is attended by tens of thousands of eager “lantern watchers”.