Red and gold lanterns are being hung above doorways and intricately designed red paper cutouts pasted on windows. Tubs of love letters (crispy rolled crepes) and kueh bangkit (melt-in-your-mouth coconut cookies) have replaced last month’s Christmas cookies and Yule logs on grocery store shelves. Soon we’ll all be exchanging oranges, gifting friends and family with red packets filled with money, and trying not to have a heart attack every time a lion dance spontaneously breaks out nearby. (Nothing will remind you you’re living in a foreign country like seeing a giant yellow lion dance its way through a Nike store while several other people in costume make crashing sounds with drums and symbols to ward off evil spirits!)
That’s right, it’s almost time for another festive Chinese New Year here in Singapore! Also known as the Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated over a 15-day period in several countries in Asia. Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore typically take the cake for the largest and most impressive Chinese New Year festivities, but even cities outside of Asia often play host to some pretty epic celebrations, which was the case for us in London.
There are many ways to celebrate the holiday in London, not the least of which is the main event in Trafalgar Square which draws around 500,000 people every year, but my personal favorite is the Magical Lantern Festival held just outside the city center in Chiswick.
Related Post: Gong Xi Fa Cai: Celebrating Chinese New Year In London
THE MAGICAL LANTERN FESTIVAL
The Magical Lantern Festival is held on the elegant grounds of Chiswick House and Gardens, which also happens to be my favorite of all the public parks in London. Home to the revered Camellia Show which takes place every February, the Magical Lantern Festival is a fairly new tradition at Chiswick House and Gardens. Beginning in 2016 and held annually since, we were lucky enough to visit the festival’s inaugural Chinese New Year event which coincided with the Year of the Monkey.
Spread out over Chiswick House’s 60 acres of landscaped gardens, wooded paths, and picturesque lakes, the Magical Lantern Festival features hundreds of colorful, hand-sculpted lanterns in all shapes and sizes, some so magnificent they look as if they might reach the same height as some of the park’s trees! I could go on and on about how much fun it is to wander along the park’s brightly lit trails, delighting in the various lantern scenes that seem to only get better the further along the trail you go, but it’s so much easier to just show you instead…
The Magical Lantern Festival is absolutely filled to the brim with cute (smiling pandas, you guys!), confusing (ants on a seesaw?), and beautiful (those peacocks, though!) lanterns. Intermixed among all the wildlife and Alice in Wonderland-inspired floral arrangements are carefully crafted, traditional Chinese lantern scenes celebrating the coming of the Lunar New Year. It’s really quite something to see, especially if you’ve never had the opportunity to attend festivals of a similar nature in Asia.
The lanterns themselves change every year, so it’s always a new experience at the Magical Lantern Festival. This past year, the festival was moved from Chinese New Year to Christmas. Whether that will be a lasting change remains to be seen, but regardless of when the lanterns go up, they’re always worth a visit!
MAGICAL LANTERN FESTIVAL: THINGS TO KNOW
Tickets issued for the festival are timed entry. To allow everyone a pleasant, uncrowded visit, tickets are issued in particular time slots, and it’s suggested that you purchase your tickets online in advance to ensure you’re able to get the time you prefer.
It’ll take about two hours to walk the full path. Even though entry is timed, you can stay inside the Magical Lantern Festival as long as you like. For most people, you’ll be able to make it through the full route in around two hours, including stops for pictures which you’ll probably be doing every 25 feet. If you want to stay and eat, plan for more time.
There’s food! Along the path, there are several fun food stations to stop at with hot drinks and marshmallows for roasting. In addition to these, at the end of the path you’ll also find a small international food fair.
You need to dress warmly. Whether the festival is held at Christmas or Chinese New Year, after the sun goes down it gets bitterly cold outside, so warm coats, scarves, and gloves are a must! (We made the mistake of not realizing just how long we’d want to spend at the event and poor Lex was freezing in the outfit she’d picked out to wear later that evening to her school dance!)
You’ll want to bring your best camera. The Magical Lantern Festival is one of London’s most beautiful events and you’ll definitely want your camera out the whole time. Since the event takes place at night, you’ll probably want to bring something with better picture quality than your iPhone!
Keep an eye out for future festival dates at the website below. I wasn’t able to find any information about whether this year’s switch to Christmas was a one-off event or permanent, so if you’re interested in visiting, I’d bookmark the festival website below and check it close to Chinese New Year and Christmas!
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