floating lantern festival

The Floating Lantern Festival: Celebrating Light and Heritage

Visitors to Thailand in November are treated to picturesque views of the sky lit up with lanterns. All this is part of the floating lantern festival, which has two versions. Loi Krathong is celebrated across the country, while Yi Peng is popular in the northern part of the country.

Here is a guide to this dazzling festival of lights, spirituality, and community.

Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong

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Also known as the Loy Krathong Festival, the three-day event is a national celebration that happens annually across Thailand. It happens on the evening of a full moon on the 12th of the lunar year.

During this event, people gather around lakes, rivers, and canals to release lanterns decorated with candles, flowers, and incense known as Krathongs onto the water. In Thai Loi means float and Krathong means basket, vessel, or boat. So, Loi Krathong means ‘float a basket.’

People attend the event to pay their respect to the Goddess of water and to ask for forgiveness for polluting the environment.

Yi Peng Festival

Yi Peng Festival

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In the northern town of Chiang Mai, the Loi Krathong festival takes a new twist. Instead of placing the lanterns on water, people here release Khmo Loi, paper lanterns that gracefully ascend into the night sky.

The captivating spectacle paints the heavens to symbolize hope for a brighter future. Loi Krathong and the Yi Peng festival are celebrated simultaneously.

Origin of the Festival

The Loi Krathong festival traces its roots back to the Sukhothai period (1248-1438 CE). Originating from the Brahmanic ritual, this festival was perceived to pay homage to the river goddess. The festival evolved to become a vibrant celebration to encompass broader reverence for water – symbolizing gratitude and interconnectedness between nature and humanity.

Ingrained in the cultural history of the Lanna Kingdom is the Yi Peng festival whose origin is in ancient spiritual practices. The ritual safeguards against misfortune and ushers in prosperity. Releasing lanterns into the sky during the celebration dispels negativity, and invites favorable energies.

What Are the Lanterns Made Of?

Lanterns

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Traditionally, Krathongs are made from organic materials. Craftsmen use supple textures of banana leaves, sturdy bark of banana trees, delicate petals of spider lily plants, and even bread. However, there are Krathongs made from inorganic materials on the market today. These are made from glossy paper, plastic, or styrofoam.

Khom Lois are made from delicate but durable material. The outer shell is made from thin rice paper to provide a light and translucent surface to catch the ambient light. A bamboo frame gives the lantern structure and stability to guarantee flight with grace. There’s a fuel cell for lighting the lantern containing combustible material for generating heat to lift the lantern into the air.

Where Else to See the Magic

Apart from Thailand, you can enjoy the festival of lights in other countries. The ancient town of Hoi in Vietnam holds a colorful event with lanterns lining the banks of the Hoai River. Hong Kong holds the Spring Lantern Festival or Yuan Xiao as part of the grand finale of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Happening on the first full moon of the year.

There’s also a lantern festival in Nagasaki Japan to light up about 15,000 lanterns to celebrate the lunar year for 15 days of fun. Lastly, a lantern festival is held annually on Memorial Day in Honolulu’s Ala Moana Beach Park. The Shinnyo lantern floating Hawaii has lanterns floating on the glistering blue water as people remember their dear ones.

On Vesak Day, people in Indonesia visit the biggest temple in Java to celebrate Buddha’s birthday filled with thousands of lanterns floating in the sky. In Myanmar, the Thadingyut Festival of Lights is held to celebrate the end of the Lenten season on the Buddhist calendar to symbolize the return of Buddha.

The Diwali festival in India is celebrated on the 13th day of the Hindu month, Kartika, to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Lastly, a floating lanterns festival happens in Warsaw, Poland on the night of the first full moon after Easter on the banks of the Vistula River.

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