Enter under the giant pagoda at the gate and suddenly your visit to Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre feels a little more like a visit to China. For the second year in a row, the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival has taken over the large venue space, showcasing 20 elaborate lantern displays with 15,000 LED lights illuminating the night sky.
Walking under the traditional hanging lanterns and through the tunnel of tulips toward the rest of the displays is a holiday light experience unlike any other. What started hundreds of years ago as merely hanging lanterns over doorsteps in a province in China, has now turned into a lantern festival, not only in China but now in a few different parts of the U.S. as well, including right here in North Carolina.
To create the displays, 21 artisans and welders from China came to Cary to create the steel frames and wrap the colorful silk around it. From the bamboo forest of giant pandas to a pair of ornate swans reflecting over the lake, all of the displays together took about three weeks to construct. On stage during the event are performers, also from China, world-renowned for their balancing acts, mixed martial arts, and cultural dances.
Last year, over 52,000 people attended the festival, and this year’s attendance is expected to far surpass that before it ends on January 15. This family friendly event also makes for a great date night, some couples have even gotten engaged among the bright colors and beauty of the lanterns.
“The use of colors and particular flowers—all of that has symbolism and meaning in the Chinese culture,” said Liz McDonald, general manager at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre. “So, while beautiful, you can find deeper cultural meaning as well.”
For instance, Chinese calendars have a 12-year rotation of animals, each of which was represented in lantern displays. While technically the Chinese New Year does not start until January 28, we can look ahead with anticipation and celebration. As we leave the year of the monkey, we enter 2017, the year of the rooster—known for traits such as loyalty, commitment, hard work, and family values. Those things are all surely worth celebrating. Happy New Year!