Taiwan’s Lantern Festival

March 1, 2014 Updated: March 1, 2014

I was in Taiwan this February, so it was natural to attend the largest and most elaborate Lantern Festival on the island, taking place in Nantou County. The imagery combined Chinese heritage, history, folklore, and this year’s Chinese zodiac theme, which were all presented as glittering decorative lanterns and displays of LED illuminations. 

I was one of some 100 foreign journalists from 14 countries that came to the island to cover the event that marks the last day of the Chinese New Year’s festive period, which is also referred to as the Spring Festival. In ancient times, it was seen as the last chance to celebrate before farmers began plowing the fields for spring planting.

Each Chinese year is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals. 2014 is the Year of the Horse. The horse is considered a lucky sign and people born under this sign are seen as generally jovial, clever, and talented.

The Lantern Festival, also called the Yuanxiao Festival, is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar year, marking the last day of the celebrations by every municipality on Taiwan. 

The festival has been associated with Taoism. Tianguan is the Daoist official of heaven who bestows happiness and good fortune, and whose birthday falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. It is said that Tianguan likes all types of entertainment, so followers traditionally prepare various kinds of activities during which they pray for good fortune. 

Hundreds of thousands of tourists, both local and foreigners, had flocked into the Zhongxing New Village when Taiwan’s Vice President Wu Den-yih lit up the 75-foot tall horse-shaped lantern that dominated the stage where the festivities took place, kicking-off the beginnings of the “Year of the Horse.” The horse had over 200,000 LEDs and weighed 30 tons, according to the organizers.

As I mentioned before, every municipality in Taiwan sponsors a celebration and the lanterns are constructed by associations, companies and even individuals, and range from almost life-sized to gigantic. The most interesting giant lanterns were of historical figures, or ducks and whales. They are submitted to a local competition, and the best are displayed in the central square of the most prominent city in the municipality.

It was great fun being part of the festival, and I would like to thank Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau for the opportunity to experience this spirited celebration. 

Manos Angelakis is a well-known food and wine critic based in the New York City area. He has written about numerous top-rated restaurants, including Michelin-starred establishments in the United States, France, Spain, the U.K., and Italy. He is the senior Food & Wine writer for LuxuryWeb Magazine www.luxuryweb.com and The Oenophile Blog www.oenophileblog.com