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Take in Lights and Culture at the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival

Anne Evans Anne Evans Take in Lights and Culture at the Ohio Chinese Lantern FestivalThe Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival returns November 17 through January 7, 2018. Photo by Walker Evans.
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There are several nice holiday light displays up for the season, but the Chinese Lantern Festival that debuts in Columbus (and the Ohio region) this Friday, November 25 is the first to focus on culture and the artisans behind the lanterns.

“We think the Chinese Lantern Festival will be a good channel for culture exchange as it is a fun way for people from other countries to have a taste of Chinese culture,” says Huiyuan Liu, Event Manager of the festival.

The Lantern Festival has a long history in China and it is celebrated across the country every year to mark the end of the Chinese New Year. Different lanterns represent different good wishes, for example fish symbolizes abundance, windmill symbolizes change of luck and peony flowers symbolize good fortune.

With over 15,000 LED lights in brilliant colors, 39 larger-than-life illuminated displays, and music playing throughout, the festival is a treat for the senses. It takes place in the Natural Resources Park located at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.

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“Usually the lantern festival takes place in a park where there are different trails/paths so that we can place our light displays in different corners in a park, and as people walk through it, there’s always something to surprise them as they walk,” says Liu. “The Natural Resource Park has paths that are perfect for displaying lanterns. In our show there are also a lot of animals lanterns and they blend in well with the trees and bushes in the park.”

Tigers, giraffes, pandas and flamingos all can be found along the paths, as well as an enormous dragon, the animals representing the Chinese zodiac, and many other displays.

Columbus is hosting the seventh festival put on by Tianyu Arts & Culture, Inc., the US division of Sichuan Tianyu Culture Communication Co., specifically created to meet US demand for the cultural light displays. Liu has worked with the company since February 2016 and has been a part of five shows so far.

“The very first Chinese lantern festival the company hosted in the US was in Spokane Valley in WA,” says Liu. Other cities to host include Cary NC, New Orleans LA, Norfolk, VA, Philadelphia PA and Milwaukee WI.

“None of the lantern festival is the same, and sometimes they are of totally different themes,” says Liu. “The Columbus show features a group of Christmas lights that is not seen in other previous festivals as it is our first show in winter time. Besides the lights we will have different Chinese performances and handicrafts demonstrations too, so even if one has been to one of our previous shows, he or she can still find something new to see and learn in the Columbus one.”

Expect crowds when you go; the festival in Milwaukee drew nearly 100,000 people during the 5-week run, with one night approaching 10,000. Another one of the reasons the Ohio Expo Center and Natural Resources Park was chosen as the site for Columbus was because it is capable of handling large crowds of people.

Be sure to take in the performances as well. Performers from China -some that have practiced their craft for over seven years- will be doing acrobatics, martial arts, jar balancing, juggling, Chinese face-changing, cultural performances and more. The performances are included in the admission price.

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Food, merchandise, and alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.

Chinese artisans have been on site for six weeks, building some of the lanterns that are too big to ship.

“The dragon was built here in the Natural Resource Park, and so is the Christmas Tree lantern set,” says Liu. “It took six artisans and almost one week’s time to build the dragon body.”

The Chinese dragon is about 120 feet long and almost 3 stories high, with the head of the dragon weighing more than 600 pounds. Most lanterns are crafted of metal and silk. The display created with a metal frame and covered with small glass bottles filled with colored water is especially magical, as the technique creates a jeweled effect.

Visit the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival at the Natural Resources Park at the Ohio State Fairgrounds and Expo Center beginning Friday, November 25, 2016 through January 2, 2017, nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., holidays included.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children under 18, and free for children under 2. Family four packs are available for $40. Active and veteran military members enjoy a discounted price of $12 with ID. Senior citizens (Monday) and college students (Thursday) enjoy $12 ticket prices. Groups of 15 or more receive a discount of $2 per admission.

Enter the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival at 717 E. 17th Ave., Columbus, OH 43211. Parking is $5.

For more information, visit ohiolanternfestival.com.

Find more Holiday Light Displays in our event calendar.

All photos by Walker Evans.

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