Light up your travel experience by attending an ancient lantern festival. You’ll find these traditional celebrations of light around the globe, from Hawaii to Vietnam – typically where there are large populations of Asian descent. The practice of sky lanterns dates back to the Eastern Han Dynasty in China when floating lanterns were used to signal military messages back and forth across distances. Today’s lantern festivals typically mark a cultural or spiritual celebration. Here are six radiant festivals that will leave a glowing reminder of your travels.
Full Moon Lantern Festival, Hoi An, Vietnam
The Buddhist tradition states that the full moon is the perfect time to meditate and reflect on one’s life, to observe important rituals and to honor dead relatives. If you’re in Hoi An on the 14th day of the lunar calendar one month, be sure to attend the festival. In fact, you won’t be able to avoid it. Once the sun has set, homes and businesses turn out the lights and allow lanterns to illuminate the area instead. Some lanterns are released onto the river in hopes of happiness and health.
When: 14th day of the lunar calendar each month
Spring Lantern Festival, Throughout China
At the culmination of the Chinese New Year celebration, the Spring Lantern Festival takes off. The exact customs you’ll encounter vary by region, but the common threads are lighting lanterns, guessing the answer to riddles, eating tangyuan dumplings and watching traditional lion dance performances.
The Chinese Spring Lantern Festival dates back about 2,000 years to the Eastern Han Dynasty when the emperor is said to have required that all temples, homes and palaces light lanterns on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month to honor Buddha.
If you’re seeing the shiniest Spring Lantern Festival in the country, head to Nanjing in the eastern Jiangsu province. Shanghai and Beijing have fantastic celebrations as well.
When: End of Chinese New Year
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, Taiwan
Held at the end of Chinese New Year, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is held in Taiwan’s Pingxi District. It’s typically February or March when it takes place (the first full moon of the lunar new year) in the rural villages of Jington, Pingxi and Shifen. The tradition is to write wishes on the colorful paper lanterns and release them into the sky to be answered.
When: End of Chinese New Year
Lantern Floating Hawaii, Oahu
Moving over to Hawaii, one can attend the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony on Oahu each Memorial Day. Thousands of people come together to honor the memory of their deceased loved ones. The lantern festival originated in 1999, led by the international Buddhist community Shinnyo-en, and has since then been held at Ala Moana Beach on the island’s south shore.
Watch local musicians, join in a prayer led by the Shinnyo-en community and send floating lanterns off in the Pacific Ocean to remember, hope and pray for the good fortune of ancestors.
Yi Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The largest Yi Peng Festival takes place in Chiang Mai each year, though you’ll find it celebrated throughout northern Thailand. It is believed that when you send a rice paper lantern (khom loi) into the sky, you are sending Buddha an offering – in return, you hope for a cleansed spirits and erasure of misfortune. Originally for monks only, the festival is now open to visitors who purchase a highly coveted entry ticket.
When: Full moon day during second month of the Lanna lunar calendar (12th month of the Thai lunar calendar)
Loi Krathong, Thailand
The Yi Peng Festival in Thailand is celebrated at the same time as the widely celebrated Loi Krathong festival. For the latter, instead of a sky lantern, you release a krathong (basket) stocked with candles and incense into the water. The biggest celebrations take place in Bangkok and Sukhothai, but if you’re in Chiang Mai, you’ll be able to observe both Yi Peng and Loi Krathong.
When: Full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar
More Light Festivals to Experience Around the World
St. John’s Night, Poland
The shortest night of the year is celebrated in June with St. John’s Night, or Noc Kupaly, in Poznan, Poland. Approximately 8,000 lanterns float up into the sky, intended to invoke fertility and well wishes.
Marine Day Lantern Festival, Tokyo
Odaiba Beach Front Park lights up in tribute to the oceans during the Marine Day Festival. Join the fun and set up a paper bag lantern, or cruise by and see them from the water.
Rise Lantern Festival, Las Vegas
In a city that’s already all lit up, things get even brighter during the Rise Lantern Festival. Enjoy a rocking concert, then write a message inside and light up your lantern with the other concertgoers, then set them off into the sky.
Sky Lantern Festival and Water Lantern Festival, Utah
The sky above Salt Lake City shines brighter in May with music, food and a massive lantern release. There’s also a Salt Lake City/Ogden Water Lantern Festival each year, where luminaries are set off into the water. The focus is positivity, togetherness, community and reflection.
Festival of Lights/Diwali, India
Most people have heard of the famous Diwali in India, the annual Hindu holiday that celebrates positivity over negativity, good over evil. The local residents light diyas (earthen lamps) during a worship ritual (pooja). They hang the lanterns in their homes and windows, creating a beautiful pathway of lights in the neighborhood. The colorful display is intended to bring wealth, happiness and health to all. Diwali is also celebrated in parts of the Caribbean and the Pink City of Jaipur in Rajasthan.
Shwe Kyin Floating Light Festival, Myanmar
This intimate light festival takes place in the 16th of Thadingyut, the seventh month of the Myanmar calendar. It’s intended to welcome Buddha and his disciples who are returning after three months of Lenten preaching. The festival begins at dawn, when locals gather along the Shwe Kyin River. There are traditional Burmese dances, singing, boat races and more. At dusk, thousands of paper lanterns are floated into the river to bring good fortune. There are usually fireworks that light up the sky as the floating candles glide along the river – a truly spectacular sight.