Guiding Lights

Taiwan’s Lantern Festival spotlights the Year of the Ox and more

By: By Dawna L. Robertson

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Click here to read about Taiwan's Beehive Rocket Festival.

The Details

Taiwan Visitors Association

The Year of the Tiger will be the theme of next year’s Taiwan Lantern Festival, which will be held from Feb. 28 to March 13, 2010, in Chiayi City.

Getting There: China Airlines and EVA Airways offer nonstop service from Los Angeles (LAX) to Taipei City (TPE). 

China Airlines

EVA Airways

Note: A visa is not required for U.S. citizens staying less than 30 days.

In the Chinese zodiac, those born in the Year of the Ox possess an innate ability to achieve great things. They’re known to be unswervingly patient, tireless in their work and capable of enduring any amount of hardship without complaint.

What a great time to be an ox, I thought, as I traipsed to the opening ceremony of the annual Taiwan Lantern Festival at Yilan’s Luodong Sports Park. Born a monkey by Chinese standards, I was stereotypically determined to score some much-needed ox mojo. And as I swung into the mega-illuminated fete, I knew I wouldn’t be missing out.


The lantern festival is held at a different city in Taiwan each year. // © 2009 Ting W. Chang

A fitting host for 2009’s event, Yilan is situated in northeastern Taiwan and is home to some 118,000 residents who contribute significantly to the island’s farming industry. But don’t book Yilan for the next lantern festival just yet. The colorful celebration, now in its 20th year, relocates annually as it marks the end of Chinese New Year.

Not to be confused with Taiwan’s Pingsi Heavenly Lanterns Festival where thousands of individual lanterns are lit and launched into the night sky, these lamps were firmly landlocked. It was equally spectacular, however, with a dazzling profusion of lanterns, lights, performances and Taiwanese cuisine unfurled across an impressive 116-acre landscaped venue, which was an attraction in itself.

Decked out in my bright-red Year of the Ox, Survivor-style buff, I immediately gravitated like other gawkers to the guest of honor. Grandly reflecting this year’s mantra of “Plowing Together for Prosperity and Strength,” the towering centerpiece was a 60-foot Taiwan water buffalo ox that tipped the scales at a whopping 26 tons.

A fusion of technology and handicraft, this golden behemoth was a study in contrasts as it integrated traditional art with modern expressions. Representing the driving force of Taiwan, turbine wheels were utilized for the leg joints of the ox, whose feet were planted in a rice terrace to symbolize the practical and hard-working nature of the Taiwanese people.

“It all shows diligence, prosperity, the turning wheel of fortune and a new era,” said Michelle Chiu, a local who was more than happy to join me on the cultural journey.

The imposing creature was encircled by four stately secondary structures that represented luck and prosperity. Just beyond, however, the setting erupted with 15,000 additional lanterns in all shapes and sizes, ranging from traditional dragons and birds to a SpongeBob SquarePants lantern.

Some kicked it up a notch with computer-controlled movement and even laser lights with special visual and sound effects. Others were much simpler, yet equally spirited with their concept and execution.

No doubt overwhelmed by this visual overload, I was amazed by how a grandiose celebration could bathe a crowd of 30,000 in such peaceful warmth and energy. I could only chalk it up to being the most superb mood lighting I’ve ever witnessed.