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Taiwan: Lanterns of Love and Light

Posted on Mar 07 2014 | IBNS

In this Chinese Year of the Horse, Sujoy Dhar was in Taiwan's Nantou County in February to watch the famous Lantern Festival kick off on the Valentine's Day.

The writer feels this is the best time to visit Taiwan with the cherry blossoms in daytime and riot of colourful lanterns in nights offering an unforgettable experience.

On a sprawling ground in Nantou County of Taiwan it was a glittering evening to remember this February. A giant horse was centerpiece of attraction when in this Year of the Horse in the Chinese zodiac, a countdown ended with the sky all lit up with bright fire works and laser show.

The 23-metre-tall horse emitted myriad colours as it dazzled up as the main lantern of a brilliant Lantern Festival which the Taiwanese celebrated with thousands of foreign tourists since the festival has become a magnet for visitors to the island nation. The massive gathering of Taiwanese people even for a moment did not turn unruly or chaotic as everyone, especially the young, celebrated the festival of magical lanterns with an opulent cultural show which combined various performances that showcased the best of Taiwanese culture.

According to the Taiwan Tourism department, the illuminated horse had over 200,000 LEDs and weighed 30 tons. So as it lit up and revolved, people cheered lustily.

The 2014 Taiwan Lantern Festival was held in Chung-hsing New Village, Nantou County, from Feb 14 to 23. The Valentine's Day start added a special romantic note to the 10-day event. In addition to the Main Theme Lantern Show, opening firework display, and "Cutie Horse" hand lantern giveaway, the event featured a "Eternal Love" lantern area and Facebook activity page, making this year's festival a must for couples in love.

During the opening programme on Valentine's Day, there was a parade joined by Yosakoi from Japan, Ten Drum Art Percussion, Ju Percussion Group and other performance troupes, ensuring a wonderful and unforgettable time.

All over the ground were decorative lanterns in various shapes and sizes. The LED illuminations were mind boggling with many of the lanterns taking the shape of either popular cartoon characters or birds and animals, especially horses this being the Year of Horse, besides other living and non living creatures and objects.

Nantou County, its governor said, waited six years to hold the main Taiwan lantern festival. "When we got this chance all locals were very happy and cheerful, and people started to arrange the 2014 Taiwan lantern festival," says the Governor.

For the past few years, the foreign tourists' flow to Nantou has been increasing, but this year the main celebrations were here and so the county rose to the occasion, he says.

The Lantern Festival is held annually on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It marks the grand finale of the Lunar New Year season and is celebrated with fanfare by families across the country. Firecrackers, fireworks, hand lanterns and torches all traditionally liven up the festivities as people welcome the New Year in a spirit of peace, prosperity and joy.

In earlier times, the main temples of Taipei‚Euro"Guangdu Temple in Beitou, Ciyou Temple in Songshan and Qingshan Temple and Longshan Temple in Wanhua‚Euro"all hosted decorative lantern displays during the Festival. But to spare people the trouble of shuttling between the various temples, in 1989, the authorities decided to consolidate the separate temple lantern displays into a single annual event.

Before this time, the Lantern Festival had been quickly fading from the consciousness in Taiwan's busy and commercial society. To reverse this trend, and bring back the festive air of the occasion, the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan planned the first large-scale festival on the 15th day of the first Lunar month, aiming to create a unique world-class event on par with the Munich Oktoberfest in Germany, Hokkaido Snow Festival, and Brazil's Carnival, to attract international visitors.
Since that time, the Lantern Festival held annually by the Tourism Bureau has become a highlight event in Taiwan during the Lunar New Year holiday.

The Tourism Bureau held the first Lantern Festival in 1990. This year, the event entered its 25th year. Each year, the festival features a Main Theme Lantern based on the Chinese zodiac animal for the new years.

This is complemented by secondary lanterns and areas highlighting different decorative lantern themes, such as the Blessing Lantern Area and Joyous Lantern Area. The event opens with performances by well-known local and international performance groups.

Some 100 foreign journalists were invited from various countries for the festival this year.

While Nantou County organized the main festival, capital Taipei also showcased colourful lanterns which were big crowd pullers.

The Taipei Lantern Festival was held for several days at the Taipei Expo Park, reaching its peak on the day of the Lantern Festival itself. Besides many traditional lanterns, electro mechanical lantern displays, and large themed lanterns were sponsored and designed by different companies.

According to the Tourism Bureau, ever since its 1997 debut, this 17-year-old festival has become a treasure trove of folk arts and a must-visit for local people celebrating Chinese New Year and for foreigners touring Taipei. It provides an important city-marketing platform while effectively portraying Taipei as a melting pot of technology and culture; tradition and fashion.

Like its predecessors, the 2014 Taipei Lantern Festival adopted design concepts that involved Chinese heritage, history, folklore and other dimensions of a "city of joy", while adding elements of "galloping horses" for 2014.

The Kaohsiung Lantern Festival was also held along the Love River. During the festival period, both sides of the river as well as Wufu Rd., Heping Rd., Guangzhou St., and other thoroughfares had lantern exhibitions. There were also musical performances, helping to throw the whole city into a festive mood.

Lantern Festival time is perhaps the best time to be in Taiwan.

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