You can spot the Magical Lantern Festival held at Chiswick House in London from several roads away. The bright colours in this Chinese light festival mark the inky sky over sleepy Chiswick in a striking gash much like a neon highlighter on paper.
The Magical Lantern Festival
Although the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick is in its second year, this Chinese light festival took several years to plan. I could easily see why because the festival is very large and elaborate. It is part of the celebration of the Chinese New Year in 2017 which is the Year of the Rooster.
The theme this year is the Silk Road which were ancient trade routes that criss-crossed from China to Europe. The Silk Road only got its name in the 19th century because it sounded romantic and the first merchandise traded was silk. For thousand of years, these routes had no name but plenty of trading activity. As a byproduct of trading activity, the Silk Road brought ancient cultures in touch with each other.
The Magical Lantern Festival is on in London in January and February. I felt sorry for its neighbours – that’s a long time to have your night sky lit up in day-glo colours. Prior to its arrival in London, the Magical Lantern Festival spent time in other British cities.he Chinese Lantern Festival
History of The Chinese Lantern Festival
Chinese lantern festivals date back a couple of thousands of years. During the Western Han Dynasty (206BC to 25 AD), the festival was being celebrated with lanterns in temples. When the devout Buddhist Emperor Hanmingdi heard that Buddhist monks light lanterns to Buddha on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, he ordered this practice countrywide. Later doing the Tang Dynasty, the use of lanterns spread to the palaces and streets.
When is the Chinese Lantern Festival?
The Chinese Lantern Festival starts on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In 2017 and 2018, the exact date will be February 11th and March 2nd, respectively. The Chinese Lantern Festival ends the biggest Chinese festival, Chinese New Year (aka China’s Spring Festival).
What do you do at the Chinese Lantern Festival?
Participating in the Chinese Lantern Festival does not require much exertion. Basically, you go around and admire all the lanterns. Lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and themes. Lighting a lantern is a prayer for a smooth future ahead with all the best for the family.
There are other ways to appreciate this Chinese light festival other than just admiring the pretty lanterns. Often the lanterns have riddles which people try to solve. If you solve the riddle, you give your answer to the owner. If your answer is right, then the owner will give you a small prize. Lion dances are another custom done during lantern festivals. The lion dance is a traditional folk dance which is used to ward off evil. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival unless there was food involved. The traditional food eaten during the Lantern Festival are little rice dumplings called Yuanxiao.
Where are the Major Lantern Festivals in China?
The biggest Lantern Festival in China is held in Quinhai in Nanjing which is supported by the local government who want it to be as big as the Harbin Ice Festival. The Quinhai festival is so famous it even gets a mention in an ancient Chinese novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber, considered one of the world’s classic books.
There are other major lantern festivals as well, including the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, lantern festivals were banned.
Magical Lantern Festival Photo Gallery
We went to the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick even though the temperatures were freezing. Although we spent an hour to walk around, we would have taken even longer if we hadn’t been losing sensation in our limbs! Luckily, the festival organisers had vendors selling gourmet marshmallows to toast as well as hot drinks which helped us out. We also munched on hot churros for warmth (or that’s our excuse!).
I know the Magical Lantern Festival touts the ice rink, the food vendors and the fun fair as activities for its visitors. On our visit, many people were foregoing these pleasures because it was just too cold.
Have you been to a Chinese lantern festival? I’d love to hear what you think.
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