A sky full of lanterns is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. With thousands of glowing lanterns ascending into the night sky, Taiwanese people wish for a prosperous new year. This lantern festival in Taiwan attracts thousands of tourists every year from Taiwan and beyond to the small town of Shifeng. It is estimated that one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand glowing rice paper lanterns are released in the sky every year.
In 2016, the National Geographic channel listed Pingxi Lantern Festival amongst the top 10 winter trips around the globe and Discovery Channel declared it as one of the best festivals in the world. Read on to know what you can expect at this festival of lanterns.
The lanterns are released into the sky on the 15th day of the 1st Lunar month each year. The first full moon after the lunar year marks the high point of the new year festivities. According to the old Chinese tales, when there is a bright full moon hanging in the sky, there should be thousands of lit lanterns hung outside homes and buildings for people to appreciate.
This festival of lighting up the nocturnal sky is one of the oldest festivals of China. So, there are many myths and legends associated with this festival. Also, there are many supposed origins of the lantern festival.
The first legend is that the very first lantern festival was celebrated two thousand years ago during the rule of the Han Dynasty. The tale is that, that there was a maid called Yuansiao in the palace, during the reign of Emperor Wu. Yuansiao’s role in the palace was not allowing her to meet with her family and it was making her homesick.
A minister of the palace got to know about her situation and decided to help her. He came up with a plan according to which the maid can meet her family once, every year. He convinced Emperor Wu that the God of Heaven is angry with him and that God would destroy the city by raining fire upon it and the only way to make God happy is to hang out the glowing lanterns throughout the city on his birthday.
Each year on the God of Heaven’s birthday, maids and servants were ordered to get out of the palace and take part in the festival, and this is how Yuansiao was able to meet her family.
According to the second legend, the Highest God in Heaven, the Jade Emperor got furious because the people of a town killed his favorite goose. He was so angry that he decided to avenge the killing of the goose by destroying the town with a storm of fire on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.
A noble fairy heard about the Jade Emperor’s plan and tried to help the people of the town. She advised people to light the rice paper lanterns and release them towards the sky on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. They acted accordingly and from the heavens, it looked like the town is already ablaze. The emperor thought that the death of the goose had already been avenged and decided not to destroy the town once again.
The origin of the lantern festival goes back to the times of the Emperor Wen of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 25 AD). Emperor Wen declared the 15th day of the first lunar month to be celebrated as Yuan Xiao Festival. This day is also celebrated as the God of Heaven’s birthday since the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 907 AD).
Both the festivals are celebrated at the same time but they have different meanings and significance. Pingxi festival is more inclined towards the ancient traditions, and the focal point of the festival is to release lanterns in the sky while the Taiwan Tourism Bureau organizes the latter to increase tourism in the country. The location of the Taiwan Lantern Festival needs to be changed every year to attract more and more foreign tourists to different parts of Taiwan. The highlights of the festival are dependant on the high-tech lanterns, pop culture, traditional Taiwanese icons, Chinese zodiac signs, folk arts, and performances.
The sky lantern festival in Pingxi is celebrated on the 16th evening after the Lunar New Year’s eve. It is an important occasion for Taiwanese people to reunite and spend a joyous time with their families. The parks are decorated with illustrious lanterns depicting Chinese zodiac animals, scenes from traditional folk stories, and contemporary scenes. The school kids make smaller versions of these lanterns by hand adding kiddish charm to the festival.
People solve puzzles on the paper lantern and eat rice balls with friends and family. Farmers write wishes on the lantern asking the gods for a plentiful harvest and prosperity in their lives before releasing them to the gods and ancestors.