Story and Photography by Manos Angelakis
Tianguan image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museum
Taiwan’s Lantern Festival
This February, I was in Taiwan, so it was natural to attend the largest and most elaborate Lantern Festival on the island, taking place this year in Nantou County. The imagery combined Chinese heritage, history, folklore, lots of fireworks and components of this year’s Chinese zodiac theme, presented on glittering decorative lanterns and displays of LED illuminations.
I was one of some 30,000 foreign visitors; including 100 foreign journalists from 14 countries that came to the island to cover the event that marks the last day of the Chinese New Year’s festive period. In ancient times it was seen as the last chance to celebrate before farmers began plowing the fields for spring planting.
Each Chinese year - whose New Year’s celebrations are known as the Spring Festival - is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals; 2014 is the Year of the Horse. The horse is considered a lucky sign and people born under this sign are seen as generally jovial, clever, and talented.
The Lantern Festival - also called the Yuanxiao Festival - is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar year, marking the last day of the celebrations, by every municipality on Taiwan. Streets and buildings are festooned with red lanterns and red lanterns span the entrances of parks and major thoroughfares.
The Festival has been associated with Taoism. Tianguan is the Daoist official of heaven who bestows happiness and good fortune, and whose birthday falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. It is said that Tianguan likes all types of entertainment, so followers traditionally prepare various kinds of activities during which they pray for good fortune.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists, both local and foreigners, had flocked into the Chong Hsing New Village when Taiwan’s Vice President Wu Den-yih lit up the 23-meter tall horse-shaped lantern that dominated the stage where the festivities took place, kicking-off the beginnings of the “Year of the Horse”. The horse had over 200,000 LEDs and weighed 30 tons, according to the organizers.
As I mentioned before, every municipality in Taiwan sponsors a celebration and the lanterns are constructed by associations, companies and even individuals, and range from miniatures hanging on a stick carried by children to gigantic (the most interesting giant lanterns were of historical figures, ducks and whales). They are submitted to a local competition, and the best are displayed in the central square of the most prominent city in the municipality.
It was great fun being part of the festival, and I would like to thank Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau for the opportunity to experience this spirited celebration.
© March 2014 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.