8 Lantern Festivals That’ll Brighten Your Life

These luminous events, from Chiang Mai to O‘ahu, are rooted in ancient cultural traditions.

Crowd watching lanterns in night sky above Chiang Mai

Traditional lanterns are commonly used to commemorate cultural and spiritual celebrations around the world.

Photo by adisornfoto/Shutterstock

Throughout Asia, lanterns have been used to commemorate cultural and spiritual celebrations for centuries. Sky lanterns can be traced back thousands of years to the Eastern Han Dynasty in China (25–220 C.E.), when the objects were used not only as decorative light sources but also as military signals that could communicate messages across long distances.

The history of lantern festivals is also believed to have begun during the Han Dynasty, though no one is certain when or how they came about. One theory goes that on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, monks would light lanterns in honor of Buddha, and eventually other people caught on to the custom and began lighting lanterns in honor of loved ones who had passed. Another more fanciful explanation goes that the Jade Emperor (a principal figure in Chinese mythology) threatened to burn down a village after its citizens accidentally killed his favorite pet crane. His daughter took pity on the townsfolk and instructed them to trick the Emperor into thinking their homes were already on fire by lighting lanterns and setting off fireworks—the plan worked. Afterward, villagers continued the tradition to commemorate the event.

Across the centuries, the tradition of lantern festivals has spread around the world through trade, immigration, and colonialism, meshing with local cultures and customs; they now occur throughout the continent and wherever there are large populations of people of Asian descent.

From a floating lantern festival in Hawai‘i to Vietnam’s monthly full moon festival, here are eight radiant lantern celebrations around the world:

In Hoi An, celebrating the Full Moon Lantern Festival: woman in boat with child and several colorful lanterns

In Hoi An, the Full Moon Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 14th day of each lunar month when the moon is at its fullest and brightest.

Photo by Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock

1. Full Moon Lantern Festival

  • Where: Hoi An, Vietnam
  • When: Hoi An’s 2024 Full Moon Lantern Festival falls on January 24, February 23, March 23, April 22, May 21, June 19, July 19, August 17, September 16, October 16, November 14, December 14

In Hoi An, the Full Moon Lantern Festival is held on the 14th day of the lunar calendar every month to celebrate the full moon. In Buddhist tradition, the full moon is considered an ideal time to meditate, reflect, observe rituals, and honor deceased ancestors. At sundown, homes and businesses across the city turn off their electricity and allow lantern lights to illuminate the area. Locals and visitors can release lanterns onto the river, an act that is thought to bring happiness and health.

Rows of hanging lit Chinese lanterns, mostly red or yellow globes

Chinese lanterns are traditionally red, as the color is believed to symbolize warmth, happiness, and good fortune.

Photo by Toa55/Shutterstock

2. Spring Lantern Festival

  • Where: Hong Kong
  • When: February 24, 2024

The annual Spring Lantern Festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year and celebrates family, society, and the coming of spring. Although specific customs vary regionally across the Chinese-speaking world, the most prevalent activities involve lighting lanterns, guessing riddles, eating tangyuan (glutinous rice balls usually packed with fillings like sweet red beans or black sesame paste), and watching traditional lion dance performances. China’s largest Spring Lantern Festival celebration takes place in Nanjing, the capital of the eastern Jiangsu province, but events are held in other cosmopolitan cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, as well as in rural regions.

People with arms stretched up surrounding large lantern viewed from below

Taiwan’s Pingxi Lantern Festival is held annually in the rural Pingxi District in New Taipei.

Photo by Shutterstock

3. Pingxi Lantern Festival

  • Where: Pingxi District, Taiwan
  • When: February 24, 2024

The Spring Lantern Festival is also celebrated annually in Taiwan’s Pingxi District, a mountainous region located approximately one hour east of Taipei. Marking the first full moon of every Lunar New Year—normally during February or March—lantern releases are held in rural villages of the Pingxi District, including Jingtong, Pingxi, and Shifen, where the event’s largest event takes place. During the festival, thousands of people gather to scribble their wishes on colorful paper lanterns before releasing them into the sky in the hopes that their prayers will be answered. The release of the lanterns, which also commemorates the official end of Chinese New Year, is considered a symbol of embracing an optimistic future.

Lanterns floating in the ocean during the Lantern Floating Hawai‘i ceremony

The Lantern Floating Hawai‘i ceremony brings thousands of O‘ahu residents and visitors together each year on Memorial Day.

Photo by ChristopherMYa/Shutterstock

4. Lantern Floating Hawai‘i

  • Where: O‘ahu, Hawai‘i
  • When: TBD but is usually scheduled around Memorial Day

Each Memorial Day on O‘ahu in Waikiki, Lantern Floating Hawai‘i brings thousands of residents and visitors together on the beach to honor and remember their deceased loved ones. The island’s first festival, hosted by Shinnyo-en, an international Buddhist community, took place in 1999 at Ke‘ehi Lagoon. But since 2002, the festival has been held at Ala Moana Beach, a sandy stretch between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. The ceremony begins with a series of traditional performances by local musical groups and continues with a prayer led by the head of the Shinnyo-en community, Her Holiness Shinso Ito. Then, participants send floating lanterns—meant to inspire remembrance, hope, and good fortune—into the Pacific Ocean as the sun sets. (The Buddhist community retrieves the lanterns from the Pacific afterward, cleans and repairs them, and stores them for use in future festivals.) Dates for the 2024 celebration have yet to be determined, but the festival usually takes place in late May.

Crowd of people releasing dozens of floating lit lanterns into the night sky

In Buddhist culture, releasing a floating lantern into the sky represents optimism and new beginnings.

Photo by Eugene Ga/Shutterstock

5. Yi Peng Festival

  • Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • When: November 16, 2024

The Yi Peng Festival is celebrated across northern Thailand, but the biggest ceremony takes place in Chiang Mai each year. It’s believed that by sending the Buddha an offering into the sky, a person’s spirit can be cleansed and their misfortunes eased.

During the event, which occurs on the “full moon day” during the second month of Lanna lunar calendar (the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar), thousands of rice paper lanterns called khom loi are released into the sky. The religiously significant lantern ceremony used to be for monks’ participation only, but today tourists can attend by purchasing highly coveted entry tickets, most of which are sold through authorized tourism agencies and typically cost up to $300.

Monks in orange robes holding large floating lanterns in Thailand

Loi Krathong celebrations, which coincide with the Yi Peng Festival in northern Thailand, take place more broadly across Thailand.

Photo by Shutterstock

6. Loi Krathong

  • Where: Across Thailand
  • When: November 15, 2024

The Yi Peng Festival coincides with Loi Krathong, a traditional festival celebrated widely across Thailand. Both annual events are considered “festivals of light,” but Loi Krathong celebrations involve releasing a krathong (a basket traditionally made out of a banana stalk and stocked with candles and incense) down a body of water as opposed to sending lanterns floating into the sky. Loi Krathong lasts for one night on the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar. The most popular celebrations take place in Bangkok and Sukhothai, but travelers in Chiang Mai for the Yi Peng Festival will also be able to observe Loi Krathong events in northern Thailand’s largest city.

Rows of lit red lanterns in groups of five hang above an alleyway in Nagasaki

The Nagasaki Lantern Festival is held to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Photo by TOMO/Shutterstock

7. Nagasaki Lantern Festival

Where: Nagasaki, Japan
When: February 9–25, 2024

Held over the first 15 days of Lunar New Year to mark the beginning of spring, the Nagasaki Lantern Festival is believed to have been started by Chinese immigrants and became an official city holiday in 1994. The festival is held in Nagasaki’s Chinatown, the oldest in Japan because Nagasaki was the only port open to foreign traders during the Heian and Edo periods. In addition to a fantastical display of over 15,000 lanterns, attendees can also expect Chinese lion and dragon dances, an Emperor’s parade, a beauty contest, and even acrobats. After you’re done taking in the sights, consider perusing the many snack stalls that line the streets of Chinatown during the parade for classic Japanese street foods like yakitori (charcoal-grilled Japanese barbecue) and takoyaki (bite-size pieces of octopus cooked in a savory batter).

People praying in front of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet

The Jokhang Temple in Lhasa is a Tibetan spiritual hub that plays host to the annual butter lantern festival.

Photo by Eugene Nelmin/Unsplash

8. The Butter Lantern Festival

  • Location: Lhasa, Tibet
  • When: February 4, 2024

Every year, the deliciously named Butter Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first Tibetan month, and it is the last and greatest day of the Monlam Festival, aka Tibetan New Year. The Butter Lantern Festival is a time for prayer and reflection, but it’s also a time for feasting with dishes like khapse (fried pastries), chang (barley wine), and droma dresil (sweet rice). During the celebrations, lanterns fueled by clarified yak butter are lit, and elaborate statues made of colored butter are constructed to symbolize their makers’ devotion—the very act of creating these items is considered a form of prayer. Festivities take place all over Tibet, but one of the liveliest places to celebrate is in the capital city of Lhasa around Barkhor Street and in front of the Jokhang Temple (one of the most spiritually important places in the country), where lanterns and butter sculptures are displayed. Expect dancing, singing, and even puppet shows.

This article originally appeared online in 2019; it was updated in 2021, 2022, and on November 20, 2023, by Mae Hamilton, to include current information.

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