Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined
There are good festivals, there are great festivals and once in a while along comes a memories-to-last-a-lifetime festival.
The Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined at the Missouri Botanical Garden this year falls into the memories-to-last-a-lifetime category. With 22 larger-than-life lantern sets crafted from silk, steel and porcelain, this festival, rarely seen outside of Asia, is a magical exhibit of Disneyesque quality.
While displays are incredibly interesting to see during the day, at night the illuminated larger-than-life displays take on a magical, almost surreal feel turning the Garden into an enchanted wonderland of brilliant colors and imagery.
“We all think of small, round red lanterns when we think of Chinese lanterns,” said said Lynn Kerkemeyer, senior manager events and exhibits at the Garden. Although there are a few of this type of lanterns at this festival, the lanterns in most of the sets are huge, colorful, fanciful displays depicting Chinese culture, history and legends.
Fun facts about the Festival:
- 30,000 meters (more than 102,300 feet) of silk, flannel, velvet and golden cloth were used in creating the displays.
- 75 tons of metal form the sets
- 5,000 meters of gold trim were used
- 450,000 pieces of porcelain dishware appear in two sets
- 12,500 lightbulbs are used throughout the festival
- 125 tins of glue were used to adhere the silk
- The dandelions in the panda exhibit is made of recycled water bottles.
- Chinese craftsmen working on the sets brought a ton of rice they brought with them from China to eat here.
The festival was conceived following the Garden’s 25 years of documenting with several other leading organization all of the 31,000 native plants of China, Kerkemeyer said. “In 2012 we celebrated that monumental scientific work by having a Chinese monumental exhibit,” she said.
That was the first time an authentic Chinese lantern festival was staged in the U. S. That year Toronto, Canada was the only North American city with such an event. This year’s festival features almost entirely new sets. “We tried as much as possible to have a botanical theme in many of the sets,” Kerkemeyer said.
The awe begins as you enter the Garden grounds. In the traffic divider in the Garden entrance the classical phoenix of Rome and Greece, with a Chinese flare greets visitors. This phoenix is the Chinese fenghuang, often paired with the dragon. According to the Lantern Festival guide, some traditions say the fenghuang appears in good times or at the beginning of a new era. The phoenix sways from side to side and on occasion belches “smoke.”
Here are some highlights of the lantern displays:
- Lotus Girl and the Dragon King tells the touching tale of a beautiful young girl and the dreaded dragon king. Her father, an elderly blind man, falls into a water hole. To be saved, he promises to let his daughter wed the dragon king who lives in the sea. The dragon king is reputed to be a good husband, but the girl longs for her father. So the dragon king releases her to the earth as a lotus flower floating on the sea. Later after she is transformed back into a woman, and the emperor falls in love with her and marries her.
- Soaring Dragon Horse is one of the most intricate displays at the festival. The spirit of heaven and earth, the longma or dragon horse has a horse’s body with dragon scales on it, wings on its sides and can walk on water.
- The Crysanthemum Pathway enthralls visitors you with its profusion of colors. Of the 22 species from China, 13 are endemic (known only from China). As meaningful as they are beautiful, the flowers are associated with longevity.
- A favorite with visitors is the dandelions and pandas exhibit with its playful baby pandas. Visitors debate: Is the parent frolicking with its young one the momma panda or the daddy panda?
- A big hit with little visitors, Birdland is a stunningly colorful garden featuring a multitude of feathered friends.
- The Construction of the Great Wall portrays in colorful pageantry the story of the construction of the wall. For the story of an ill-fated couple whose lives are impacted by the construction, consult the Festival guide.
- Cherry Tree Arches will leave you wanting a cherry tree garden of your own at your home.
- Crane Paradise is a serene, lovely exhibit featuring cranes and a beautiful young Chinese woman. But behind the beauty lies a tragic, but true, tale of a young woman who worked with her father on creating conservation areas in China for cranes. In 1987, while trying to rescue a crane, Xu Xiujuan, the young woman whose name is now a household word in China, drowned in the process
Visitors can also watch as Chinese craftsmen demonstrate seal engraving, dragon-phoenix calligraphy, stone carving, straw pictures, embroidery art, pearl engraving, paper cutting, leaf painting and so-called “inner painting” where pictures and calligraphy are pointed on the inside surfaces of glass bottles.
Insider tips for viewing the Lantern Festival:
- The festival is open on select dates through Aug. 23. Seeing the exhibits during the day and at night afford two completely different experiences. A special nighttime admission price is in effect when the gates open at 6 p.m
- Come early to have an Asian-inspired dinner and shop at the Marketplace
- Don’t delay planning your visit. Crowds are sure to swell in August as people rush to see the festival before it closes. Plus the price increases then.
- Book your tickets online to save time.
- Come early; stay late. There’s much to see and do.
- Don’t miss the Chinese Acrobatic Performance Troupe performing at 6:30 and 7:30 at the Cohen Amphitheatre. The mask performer will wow you, and the exuberance of the young acrobats is inspiring.
- Get the most from your visit. Use the mobile guide to read in-depth descriptions of the sets. You must have a QR code reader installed on your mobile device so scan the codes. Apps are available free of change on the web.
- Pace yourself. While the festival’s hours are 6-10 p.m., the lights start turning off on the far end much earlier.
- If parking is tight, park along Tower Grove. Garden officials are planning to keep the gate on that street open during evening festival hours.
Guest Blogger Kathie Sutin contributed to this blog.