Taipei’s Lantern Festival is one of my favorite parts of Chinese New Year! Going to Asia and missing Chinese New Year celebrations is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Though the party is time-bound, happening from late January and last about a month, it’s worth it to plan a trip to China, Taiwan, and/or Hong Kong around CNY.
What is the Taipei Lantern Festival?
The Taipei City government puts on a traditional lantern festival annually to celebrate the new year. Officials pick a wide open space and decorate it intricately with thousands of designs; many of them feature the Chinese Zodiac animal for the coming year. The party lasts for several weeks and is free! All you have to do is show up and enjoy the displays. The “lanterns” look honestly more like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats, but they’re just as beautiful!
The location and exact dates of the festival may change from year to year, but is accessible by public transportation. The information is available from the Taipei Official Government Website and their Facebook page. The best part? They have English!
The nature of lighting means that the decorations are best seen at night. The venue is typically open during the day, but the best experience is the lively one with colors standing out against the dark sky!
This is the welcome design at the entrance. The gourd-like shape in the background was the keynote lantern for 2016. It represents the Year of the Monkey and acted like a projection screen for shows every half hour after nightfall.
Because monkeys are traditionally seen as clever and rule-bending, some floats showed them playing jokes and goofing around.
Lanterns Telling the Chinese Story
Chinese lore tells the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King who acquires supernatural powers after practicing Taoism. He is a mix of a ninja, warrior, soldier, thought leader, and magician.
Some floats tried to incorporate as much Taiwanese culture as possible; this one includes Sun WuKong and the pig Zhu Bajie, his helper on his quests. The teal building on the right is the silhouette of Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taiwan and once the tallest in the world.
This float is also cultural. Many Taiwanese are Buddhists, and the golden crowns/boats the monkeys carry represent wealth. The coin that the monkey on the far left is holding resembles ancient Chinese currency.
Rain is a sign of prosperity and auspiciousness. This display showed many monkeys playing in the rain, wishing good luck to everyone in the crowd!
This float is quintessentially Chinese New Year. The building is Taipei 101, and red represents luck and prosperity in Chinese culture. The monkey at the front bears the word 福, or luck, a word commonly displayed during the Chinese holidays. Doraemon is the blue figure hanging off Taipei 101. Though he is originally Japanese, the cartoon became extremely popular in Taiwan. The banner he is holding says 大家恭喜, or “Congratulations, Everyone”.
Lanterns: Something for Everyone!
Some floats had nothing to do with the Year of the Monkey, instead including cute animals doing human activities.
Other animals were meant to stimulate your confusion.
Local schools and universities were invited to submit designs for lanterns, and the best were chosen to be part of the festival!
Some of the floats could move! This monkey was running in slow motion.
Some lanterns clearly showed Western influence; this was a life-size carriage resembling Cinderella’s!
This lantern made me hungry!
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Have you participated in Chinese New Year celebrations? What’s your favorite experience?