On the first full moon of the Lunar Year, waves of paper lanterns are released into the sky of Taiwan. This year, that day happened to fall on Monday, February 6th. But luckily for those who work during the week, there are also lots of festivities leading up to the capital day. We went to Pingxi over the weekend in hopes of catching a glimpse of the iconic paper lanterns floating up, up and away as part of Lantern Festival. Our hopes were met and exceeding as hundreds of lanterns filled the night sky.
There are numerous ideas behind the origins of Lantern Festival. Some claim that agricultural people began Lantern Festival to initiate the start of spring and longer daylight hours. Others say it was a way to pay respects to Buddha while making it easier to see various deities descending from the heavens. Today, cities all across Taiwan have their own interpretation of Lantern Festival that they use to promote local tourism and remember Chinese culture.
The northern city of Pingxi celebrates Lantern Festival with Heaven (or Sky) Lanterns. Essentially, people write their wishes upon paper lanterns with thin steel rims. The inside of the lantern has paper covered with kerosene, which is lit. When the hot air inside brings the lantern to the sky, the wishes are carried with it for the deities to fulfill.
Of course, we decided it would be a good idea to send our own lantern into the sky. We bought a paper lantern and scrawled our wishes upon it (including a pony—Dan’s still a little bitter he never received one from Santa a few years back—peace and happiness, and good health). We then set to the railroad track to light it, like everyone else. Only we somehow didn’t quite master the correct technique, because after about five seconds of lighting the kerosene paper, our entire lantern burst into flames. And there you have it, all of our wishes burnt up in front of us. From a cultural standpoint, it was probably one of the worst omens we could have received. But from ours, it was absolutely hilarious. Leave it to the foreigners to cause a scene in front of a massive group of Taiwanese people. Of course, to add to the ridiculousness of the situation, an old woman with her young grandchild then spent the next five minutes trying to get the flame out themselves. Old people and children—the two demographics you don’t want playing with fire, uniting as one to extinguish our mess. I guess next time we’re dealing with flammable objects we’ll enlist the help of the locals before causing a scene on our own.