The Lantern Festival

On Monday night, a bunch of us (along with hundreds of other people) went to the Hohhot Temples to watch the Lantern Festival. This festival happens every year on the 15th day of the first month of the new lunar cycle (the full moon) and it marks the end of the Chinese New Year Celebration. At the festival, people visit the temples and release thousands of fire lanterns into the sky as a symbol of good luck, love, and the higher beings bringing or returning the light for the new year.

At the festival, there were bonfires, fireworks, sparklers, dragon puppets, a live-singing show, cotton candy, and, of course, hundreds of beautiful, bright lanterns filling the sky, floating up towards the moon and away into the distance. It was freezing that night, so we mostly hung around the bonfires, but we managed to send up 3 lanterns of our own, a yellow one, a pink one, and a red one. When we released a lantern, we had to make a wish and it was really a sight to see as we watched it inflate with hot air, rise up out of our hands and slowly float up to join the hundreds of other lanterns in the sky. I took a lot of pictures, it was almost as beautiful as the sea of fireworks I witnessed on New Years Eve.

Recently, however, there has been a law made that it is illegal to send up the lanterns now because, clearly, they are both a fire hazard and incredibly wasteful considering that the fire blows out eventually and they end up as garbage in the mountains/countryside. I even saw a lantern (still on fire) caught in a tree as we were making our way home. So there were a lot of policemen at the festival keeping their eye out and ruining our fun. One even came over to us, grabbed one of our lanterns and roughly stamped out the fire on the ground right as it was about to float away on its own! After he left, there was a huge hole in the side of it, but we managed to relight it and it floated up (very daintily) before our cautious eyes to join the others in the sky. There still ended up being hundreds of lanterns being released, but Matt said that the year before there had been thousands. I thought the number in the sky was beautiful, but what a sight it would have been to see thousands!!

It was probably the coldest night I have experienced in Hohhot. Or maybe ever. After about 2 hours we called it quits and went on a mission to find a taxi. Unfortunately, we were only a few in a swarm of hundreds of other people trying to find taxi’s, so we walked the icy, windy streets in search of shelter. We found a firework stand instead, and bought a few fireworks and spent a few minutes lighting them in the streets. I think my hands and feet had fallen off at that point, I was so cold, and we all decided to duck into a restaurant that was open across the street, which was great because it served bbq and they were happy to serve a bunch of frozen foreigners! We stayed for at least 2 hours and by the time we left the streets were empty and we found taxi’s almost immediately. A very successful night! And the Lantern Festival was unforgettable.

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