If there’s one thing I know is true regarding Chinese lanterns it’s this: I’ve always been fascinated with the mystery and beauty of them. As a child, I remember watching lantern festivals on the tele and thinking that I’d love to be apart of a festival one day. What started out as practicality (using paper lanterns to keep flames from going out) turned into tradition. That tradition evolved into both paper and silk forms in homes and on the streets for lighting and eventually made its way over to North America for use as chic home decor. Any way, shape, or form, I’m still fascinated and couldn’t wait to check out the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival in Columbus last weekend for its opening night.
Braving the late November chill, we got all bundled up, drove to the Ohio Expo Center, and walked through its Natural Resources Park with mouths gaped open. While each is more than simply beautiful, it plays a significant role in Chinese culture.
Even if a picture paints a proverbial thousand words, the lanterns are so much more beautiful captured on film.
What’s at the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival?
Let’s get right down to it. for starters, hundreds of Chinese lanterns in themed groupings. To be exact, there’s 39 separate groupings, but out of those there’s some super stars including the 200-foot long illuminated dragon.
We spied archways filled with flower lanterns and walkways with giant tulips that reminded us of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. While touching the lanterns is not permitted, we were allowed to mosey around and get up close to check out the pretty details.
As you’d expect on opening night, the festival was filled with folks wanting to see the Chinese lanterns. Happily the park is large enough to accommodate tons of people so it never felt overcrowded or stuffy. In fact, there was plenty of space to move about.
If the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival had hot spots it would be these: the animal lanterns. There’s pandas and safari animals, fish and birds – many of which are animated.
This display gave me a very strong urge to tweet to Ellen DeGeneres and ask her to make a visit!
The beautiful attention to detail is so prevalent. Check out these giant pearls inside a clam shell!
Handicrafts and Performances
With the lanterns, the festival brings with it a team of artisans hailing from Zigong, Sichuan – China’s cultural capital for the ancient art of lantern-making. Palm leaves weaving, sugar painting, and Shu embroidery artists were on site and, not only did they demonstrate their fantastic crafts, the end products were available for sale.
Each night of the festival, performers with decades of experience in traditional Chinese stage culture have the pleasure of performing for the attendees. We saw incredible feats including jar balancing, kicking bowls on a rolling board, martial arts, and umbrella juggling. What impressed me the most was the face-changing artist. Coming out on stage in traditional Chinese opera clothing, he twirled and turned and without touching his face his masks magically changed. I’d love to know how it’s really done but am happy to keep the magic a secret. Performance Times are Sunday-Thursday: 6:30 PM & 8:00PM, Friday & Saturday: 6:30PM, 8:00 PM, & 9:00 PM.
Tip: Performances are included in festival admission so there’s no need to budget extra!
Admission Cost and Details
Once you find a parking space (there was plenty on the night we visited. Parking is $5.), head toward the giant red arch entrance. You can purchase tickets in advance online or at the gate.
Dates and Times:
November 25th – January 2nd from 5pm-10pm nightly
Is the festival open on holidays? You betcha!
- Adults: $15
- Children 3-17: $10
- Military: $12
- Family Four Pack (Two Adults and Two Children): $40
- Senior discounts (65+) are available on Mondays – $12 admission.
- College discounts (ID required) are available on Thursday – $12 admission.
Admission includes viewing the lanterns, nightly performances, and handicrafts. Food and beverages are also available onsite and are an additional charge. The menu includes both traditional fair food as well as Chinese-style food.
Are you planning (or have you already visited!) the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival? Please let me know in the comment section below!
Disclosure: My family and I were graciously hosted by the folks at Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival to give you fine folks the scoop on what makes the festival so amazing for both kids and adults. All opinions are my own!