Updated: Sep 6
Just after celebrating Lunar New Year, Taiwan is already ready to celebrate the next festival: Lantern Festival (元宵節 yuánxiāo jié) ! In this post you will find out why we celebrate Lantern Festival and where to go in Taipei to see magnificent lanterns.
There are several legends when it comes to the origin of Lantern Festival. The oldest of which go back over 2,000 years ago.
Originally Lantern Festival is celebrated to mark the end of Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) celebrations. During the festival, people traditionally eat sweet rice balls called 湯圓 (tāngyuán), view beautiful lantern displays, light fireworks, watch lion and dragon dances and guess lantern riddles. With years passing, the Lantern Festival traditions are practiced less, but are still very much visible, even just walking around in a town or city in Taiwan. On the day of Lantern Festival you can watch lion and dragon dances at some temples, as well as fireworks. In the two weeks before and after the holiday, you can see a multitude of beautiful lanterns all around town. More about where to find those in Taipei down below!
The one and only most popular food to eat during Lantern Festival is tangyuan. Tangyuan are sweet glutinous rice flour balls that are usually steamed or boiled and served in a sweet thin soup. Traditionally they are white on the outside and filled with sweet black sesame paste, taro, red bean paste, sweet potato or peanut.
The round shape of the balls symbolizes family and reunion.
As they've become very popular, modern versions of the snack have appeared. For example, filled with chocolate or in bright colors like pink, purple and yellow.
Nowadays you can buy them year round at small restaurants and in the frozen section of your local supermarket.
Taipei Lantern Festival 2023
During the last two years (because of Covid), Taiwan has not been able to celebrate Lantern Festival as big as they would have liked. But this year, we can finally experience the real Lantern Festival, therefore Taipei City has organized a festival called "Light up the Future". The festival kicks off on February 5th and lasts until February 19th. During these two weeks you can find the most impressive works of art that light up around Taipei. You can see all the artworks lit up from 17.00-22.00 every day. During the day the works are all available to see, but won't be lit up.
The Taiwan Lantern Festival has been celebrated for over a decade in different cities across Taiwan, and has finally returned to Taipei after 23 years, a very special occasion. And even more special, since it is the first large-scale international event to be held in Taiwan since the easing of the pandemic restrictions.
Where to go
The lantern shows are divided into three main display zones: Beacons of Light, Fount of Light and Lights of the Future The zones are located around Taipei's East District, Xinyi and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. On the website linked below, you can find a very useful map with pictures of the artworks to plan out your route. On the map you can also see which locations are crowded and which are not. On the website you can find out more about the artwork, what it represents and who created it.
Beacons of Light
Located in the East District commercial area, this part of the exhibition reflects Taipei's important role in modern innovation. Each work in this zone represents a beacon of light, or hope and reflects the pride of Taiwan as well as the "brilliance of Taipei". In this area you can find 59 works, one of the two works I am particularly excited about in this exhibit is the "Light Rabbit in Taipei", a very cute, big, illuminated rabbit on top of Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station exit 1. The second is called "First Light", a colorful and vibrant work of art up in the trees near the MRT station. I am excited about this one, because I was there when they were putting it up, and even half-finished, it already looked magical.
Find more information about 'Beacons of Light' here: https://tw-light.taipei/en/exhibition/light
Fount of Light
The Songshan Cultural and Creative Park display zone is relatively small, with 25 works, and is perfect if you are not able to walk too far, or if you just don't want to spend all night walking around, but still see beautiful artworks. All of the works are located in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, a beautiful park with an extensive history. The artworks in this zone are all about embracing different cultures. 'Fount of Light' gives you a chance to experience Taipei's inclusiveness and diversity. One of the biggest works there is called "Woman Tree on the Island", and is a huge lantern in the shape of a woman, in the middle of the small lake in the park.
Find more information about 'Fount of Light' here: https://tw-light.taipei/en/exhibition/from
Lights of the Future
Xinyi is the trending shopping area in Taipei and is often referred to as 'downtown'. There are 19 modern artworks on display here, all of which are pretty far apart, giving you a chance to not only look at the works, but also get to know the vibe of Xinyi, a part of the city that is always alive. There are some bars around the same area, so if you want you can always look at the lanterns and go to a bar afterwards.
Find more information about 'Lights of the Future' here: https://tw-light.taipei/en/exhibition/future
Brilliant Light of the Jade Hare
The masterpiece of the show can be found in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Park. This year is the year of the rabbit, therefore a recurring theme in the show is rabbits! This robot hare symbolizes both technological growth and Taiwan's progress in areas such as democracy and in themes like freedom and international cooperation. In Chinese, the name of this artwork can also be translated to "splendor of the moon".
I will definitely be going to this amazing light show in the next week. Will I see you there?
Here is what we saw this year: