Held toward the end of Chinese New Year, the Taipei Lantern Festival marks the end of the holiday season with one of the biggest street parties of the calendar year: ten days of live music, street performances, light shows, and of course floating lanterns. Essentially, it’s an extended version of the traditional holiday of the same name, yuánxiāo jié (元宵節), which is held on the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar (February 15 this year) — and a cornerstone activity of the New Year season along with shopping for niánhuò (年貨) along Dihua Street.
The festival, which is hosted by a different district each year, will be taking over Shilin from February 11 to 20. Because Taipei is never one to do things on a small scale, this year it’ll run for over two ethereal kilometers between Jiantan and Zhishan MRT stations.
But wait, didn’t we just have the Taipei lantern festival?
If you’re feeling the déjà-vu, it’ll be because the 2021 festival took place in December after it was postponed twice last year. But that was for the Year of the Ox, the undoubted highlight of which was a two-story dancing robot bull designed by digital artist Akibo Lee. And while we’ll be prowling into the Year of the Tiger without the giant animatronic humanoid, Lee has returned as creative director for this year’s edition. It’s not clear what showstoppers he’ll be pulling out yet, but we have heard hints of interactive light fixtures that will be able to interact with the audience.
Naturally, this year’s event is taking a culinary route (because “when in Shilin”), the theme for which is “stir-fried lanterns” (生炒花燈) — reportedly a metaphor for the hodgepodge mix of fine arts and technology museums that can be found around this corner of Taipei.
Of course, there’ll also be plenty to eat, not least because the lantern walk cuts right through Shilin Night Market. Tangyuan (湯圓), aka sweet glutinous rice dumplings, are the traditional thing to go for around this time of year. We doubt you’ll have to look hard for them, but if you need to get your bearings, Dr.Q on at the Zhishan end of the walk is worth checking out.
Three Themed Zones
To add to the glow up, this year’s lantern walk has been divided into three separate zones, meaning you’ll have to wander the whole two kilometers to get the full yuanxiao experience — definitely a marathon not a sprint type situation, but you have ten days: you got this.
The first zone starts at the MRT station and runs through the night market along Jihe Road as far as Chengde Park. So it’s just naturally fitting that the installations here will be “everything night market.” Expect food-themed lanterns, tasty-looking (but still very much inedible) light fixtures, and plenty of weird and wonderful street art that celebrates everything about this most Taiwanese of Taiwanese traditions. Just to keep you on your toes, we’ve heard that some of the installations will also be interactive.
Continuing north along Jihe Road as far as Meilun Park, the installations in the Shilin section will reportedly take inspiration from “traditional Taiwanese Old Streets.” To us, that just screams Dàcháng bāo xiǎocháng (大腸包小腸), a chargrilled sausage-in-a-rice-sausage sandwich. Munch on this Russian Doll of a meaty treat while you explore this section of the lantern walk, which according to Taipei Tourism Bureau will bring “the traditional style of Shilin” to festival-goers — that and a tunnel of fairy lights.
From Meilun Park up to Zhishan station, the third zone is a great one to hit up if you’re chasing the festival lights with kids in tow. The themes for this section are “natural ecosystems” and “children’s play areas” — so… kids in their natural habitat? This one seems like a bit of a wild card, but we are looking forward to the enormous Bravo the Bear shaped hot air balloon that will be in Meilun Park every evening from 7 to 9 p.m. There’ll also be a great lineup of live performances for the kids on both weekends.
Other Lantern Festivals around Taiwan
With the lantern festival being one of Taiwan’s biggest events, events are on up and down the country from December through February. Most notably, there’s the Taiwan Lantern Festival, which this year will be held along Kaohsiung’s Love River Bay and Weiwuying from February 1 to 28. Reportedly a show case of the city’s port culture, greenness, and edgy art scene, the event is expected to attract an estimated 12 million visitors like moths to a flame.
Then, there’s Tainan’s Longci Light Festival (龍崎光節空山祭), which returning for it’s third edition has been praised as one of the most beautiful outdoor light festivals in Taiwan. Held in mountain town of Longci, about a 30 minute drive out of the city proper, this year’s event features 14 large otherworldly light installations, including an cavelike structure featuring hundreds of neon stalactites.
Cover photo by Department of Information and Tourism,Taipei City Government.