SLIDESHOW: Taiwan's Lunar New Year Celebrations End With Fiery Lantern Festival

wandermelon’s Amanda Castleman captures amazing images of last week’s Lunar New Year celebrations in Taiwan, which literally ended with a bang.

Lunar New Year Lanterns Taiwan

Floating lanterns illuminate the night sky in Pingxi, Taiwan. Image: Amanda Castleman

The Lantern Festival first ignited more than 2,000 years ago and now is the finale of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. The mythology varies, but always anchors off good relations between families, people, nature and the higher powers that return the light each spring.

In Taiwan, this year locals welcomed the Year of the Dragon by showering men in firecrackers, said to bring luck and show respect to the gods (Taitung and Tainan). Always a reason to go big, the New Year celebrations didn’t disappoint, with Changhua County erecting a 40-tonne (88,185 pound) glowing dragon – the largest lantern ever – to light-up their bash.

But perhaps the most poetic and traditional aspect of these celebrations are the sky lanterns, which I photographed as they illuminated the former coal town of Pingxi, 21 miles north of the capital, Taipei. The lanterns have a long and now somewhat controversial legacy: Mountain villagers once signaled bandit attacks with balloons such as these, and some modern critics point to issues such as litter, wildfires and choking hazards to livestock.

But on one magical evening last week as the Year of the Water Dragon festivities came to a close, no one thought of bandits or clean-up. Hundreds of buttercup-bright lanterns squiggled into Taiwan’s night sky, each powered by tiny wax-burning lamps.  The fragile bamboo-and-rice-paper balloons swayed and drifted as the heat – and the crowd’s sighs – carried away scrawled wishes for love, success and prosperity. Any worries just floated away, lovers kissed and seeded their dreams in the air and we all watched in wonder as the luckiest year of the Chinese Zodiac lifted off to a bright start.

Going to Lunar New Year Celebrations to see the sky lanterns:

Volunteers pack guests into frequent shuttles between Pingxi and Taipei’s MRT Zoo Station with all the efficiency of a Tokyo-subway rush-hour crew. Take the 40–50 minute bus early to enjoy the street snacks and daytime lantern releases, and also to stake out a stage-side viewing point a few hours before the first flight at 6.30pm.

All images: Amanda Castleman


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