Standing feet astride on the railway line in the village of Pingxi in Taiwan, I was nothing short of transfixed. Craning my neck to follow the massive red lantern floating up in the air with my personalized message to the Taiwanese Gods, I had forgotten all about the awkward pose for a good ten minutes. The lantern finally transformed into a black dot that I could only trace with a squint.
“Grant me a pot of gold,’ I had scribbled inartistically with a paint brush. Of course, the pantheon of divinity didn’t lead me to any treasures in 2015, but certainly offered me a glimpse of one of the most heartwarming festivals across the seas.
Taiwan’s Lantern Festival (also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival) has become an annual feature on the country’s cultural calendar. This year, the festival venue will be the city of Taoyuan, between 22 Feb and 6 March, 2016. Though major cities and venues offer the vibrant atmosphere and sprawling fairgrounds, it is the unassuming tradition of launching lanterns in the Pingxi skies that is more memorable.
Lights and lanterns are not experienced in the South East Asian countries alone. There are other festivals of light that illuminate cities around the world. Here are some of our top picks.
Full Moon Lantern Festival, Hoi An
A UNESCO world heritage site, Hoi An is not only a window into Vietnam’s rich history, but also the venue to one of the most eclectic light festivals of the world. Since the festival takes place on the 14th day of each lunar month, there is ample opportunity every month to coincide your travels with this. The festival takes place in the Old Town where vehicular traffic is banned. Stand anywhere between the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Cau An Hoi Bridge, which connects Hoi An with An Hoi and take a peek into a magical sea of lanterns over the river.
Las Fallas, Valencia
Spain never ceases to astonish and excite the travellers with its list of thrilling festivals. Though Valencia is one of the more sedate places in the country, a five-day festival during 15 March to 19 March, 2016 sets the city ablaze – quite literally. The smell of gunpowder and a misty haze hangs in the air for the entire period as fireworks light up the sky each night. The festival is celebrated as a tribute to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Over the years it has taken shape of a resounding tourist attraction. The festival reaches a crescendo with the burning of large papier-mache figures (ninots) displayed around the streets of the city.
A convergence of musicians, artists, designers and all things creative makes for the harbour festival in Sydney. The Sydney Opera House and places around become the cynosure of all activities and as the daylight melts away, the area is brimming with light installations, grand projections and innovative light sculptures. A brilliant way for people to engage with urban spaces in an ingenious way, Vivid Sydney will return this year between 27 May and 13 June.
Festival of Lights, Berlin
The square at Potsdamer Platz can be deceptive in October – one almost thinks it’s Christmas. Iconic buildings like the Brandenburg Gate, the TV Tower, the Berlin Cathedral and the Funkturm radio tower are bathed in lights, transforming the city into a resplendent dream-like scene. Walk from Checkpoint Charlie, criss-crossing between perpendicular streets to reach the square. Colourful light projections, interesting patterns on the streets and a feeling of joie de vivre fills the air.