Boerner Botanical Gardens has once again been ablaze with colorful illuminated artwork the last few weekends as the China Lights lantern festival returns to the “living museum” of the county park system for a second year in a row.
Demand for tickets was, like last year, so overwhelming that organizers had to extend the event by another weekend and eventually suspend ticket sales.
Thousands of visitors streamed through the three-quarter mile long exhibit to experience a pond full of glowing larger-than-life plants and animals, cross a covered bridge softly lit by hundreds of hanging lanterns, and stand in the bright wash of a towering, 200-foot-long dragon.
“It doesn’t hurt having Chinese food and beer for sale” said Kurt Rosen, while enjoying a helping of sweet and sour chicken from Lychee Garden, a local Chinese restaurant.
The food and drink is found in the festival’s bustling marketplace, which also features stalls selling clothing, jewelry and instruments. Some goods are even custom-made while you wait.
The nearly 50 super-sized lanterns are assembled and positioned for roughly two months before the festival opens and are then hand-painted on site to ensure that the vibrant colors look their best. Organizers say 95% of the lanterns featured this year will be original to this particular show.
The festival is divided into five weekends, three of which feature a theme to illuminate a different element of Chinese history, such as cuisine, the Chinese Moon Festival, or cultural displays and lectures.
Accompanying the dazzling lights dotting the garden were vibrant performances every night of the festival.
Singing musicians with ornate instruments serenaded the crowd playing traditional Chinese songs while performers would captivate passers-by with customary dances or even extreme yo-yoing.
“You only get half the experience if you come just for the lanterns,” said Peng Yu, who came with his wife and three young children to see the festival. “I grew up in China, you learn much more about us if you watch us dancing and singing.”
It was also possible to pick up some Chinese cultural education amongst the lanterns themselves. One exhibit taught visitors which animal of the Chinese zodiac calendar their birthday associated them with, and the significance that this sign was said to have had for the people it represented.
The Sichuan Tianyu Cultural Communication company provided the artisans to prepare this display, and they travel the world with this vast collection to carry on the Chinese tradition of lantern festivals which began before the birth of Christianity.
This show and others were made possible after the Sichuan Provincial Department of Commerce launched a campaign to promote cultural exchange and familiarize more people with the beauty of Chinese culture by holding 100 lantern shows in 100 cities worldwide, according to a County Parks press release from July.
There is no word yet on whether this campaign means the lanterns will be returning next year to light up Boerner, but a second year of surging ticket sales suggest that people will be lining up if they do.