February 8 Pingxi Lantern Festival

There are many activities all over Taiwan during the Taiwan Lantern Festival.  Traditionally, the lantern festivals take place on the 14th day after the lunar (Chinese) New Year. Many of the celebrations in both China and Taiwan now run from one to two weeks after the Chinese New Year, as they have become so popular. One of the most popular lantern festivals in Taiwan is the Pingxi Sky Lantern festival. This year, it took place on February 3, 8, and 14.

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Pingxi lanterns floating up into the sky

According to the elders of Pingxi, the Sky Lantern Festival originated in the Xing Dynasty, more than two thousand years ago. At that time, bands of outlaws frequently raided the lowland villages, forcing residents to seek refuge in the mountains. Village watchmen used  “fire balloons” as signals to let the refugees know that their houses were safe once again. When those hiding in the hills saw the glowing lights, they knew it was time to go home.

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Ann is dressed in her panda vest because it was a cold, rainy afternoon

The Pingxi Lantern Festival is so popular now in Taipei that the MRT runs bus service up into the mountain village of Pingxi, leaving every 15-20 minutes from the Taipei Zoo subway station. And because there is almost no place to park in Pingxi Village, they close off the road up into the village, except for local residents and buses. This was the second time that we had gone to the Pingxi Lantern Festival, so we knew what to expect. We were both dressed warmly, and carrying umbrellas and additional layers of clothing, so we could stay warm being outdoors for most of the rainy afternoon and evening.

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Ann is standing next to the Pingxi Lantern Festival sign

The Pingxi Lantern Festival is so popular now in Taipei that the MRT runs bus service up into the mountain village of Pingxi, leaving every 15-20 minutes from the Taipei Zoo subway station. And because there is almost no place to park in Pingxi Village, they close off the road up into the village, except for local residents and buses. This was the second time that we had gone to the Pingxi Lantern Festival, so we knew what to expect. We were both dressed warmly, and carrying umbrellas and additional layers of clothing, so we could stay warm being outdoors for most of the rainy afternoon and evening.

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Jeff is standing next to the pink paper sky lantern that we wrote our wishes on for the New Year

We took the subway to the Taipei Zoo stop, and followed the signs from the subway exit to the Pingxi bus loading line.  We did not have to wait long in the line, for as soon as a bus was loaded, it pulled away and headed up the mountain, and another bus pulled up to load passengers. So it took us about 40 minutes on the subway, and about one hour on the bus to get to Pingxi, less than two hours total. I love the convenience and efficiency of the Taipei public transportation system! Upon arriving in Pingxi, we walked towards the Main  Street first so that we could make our sky lantern

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Ann is standing next to our sky lantern with the New Year hopes and wishes that we wrote on it

The lanterns are made out of oiled rice paper, and outfitted with wax paper that burns like a candle at the bottom. The cost 150 NT (about $5) each, and there are plenty of vendors selling them along the street. You pick a color (I chose pink because it would show up well in the photos) and pay for it. Then you get to write whatever you want on each of the four sides with a brush dipped in black ink.

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Ann is holding  our sky lantern in the street, in preparation for its lighting

When you are ready to send your lantern up into the sky, the wax candle paper at the bottom is lit. The lantern starts to fill with hot air and glow.

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We are holding the lantern as the candle heats up the air inside of it

Then you let go of it, and it takes off into the sky, carrying your hopes and wishes with it.

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Our sky lantern going up into the sky from the street

We sent our sky lantern up before it was dark because it is easier to write and take photos when it is still light at the end of the day.

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Our sky lantern is floating away!

Our sky lantern floated away up over the hills and out of sight, successfully caring our hopes and wishes for the New Year!

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People on Pingxi Main Street

There is no food for sale at the site for launching the sky lanterns in the evening. So we headed down the  Pingxi Main Street to see what looked good to eat. This was not as easy as it sounds because it was raining, and there were lots of people there, and almost everyone was holding umbrellas.

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Vendor making an ice cream treat in Pingxi

Pingxi is where I first tasted one of my favorite Taiwanese treats. It is a thin rice flour tortilla, with ice cream sitting on top of peanut brittle shavings. Cilantro is sprinkled on the top of the ice cream, and then the tortilla is rolled up around the cilantro, peanut brittle shavings, and ice cream. Delicious, and I was happy to see a vendor making them in a street side stall in Pingxi. Naturally, I bought one to eat!

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Many tripods lined up around the lantern launch site at the Pingxi Elementary School

The Pingxi Sky Lantern launch site was crowded. Very, very crowded. There were many tripods crowded around the launch field, holding prime spots for their photographers.

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Band playing at the Pingxi Lantern Festival between lantern launches

The collective launches start at 6:00 pm and happen three times an hour until 9:30 pm. You need to sign up for a launch time in the morning. Sign ups start at 9 am, and all slots are filled before noon. Two hundred people are allowed to send off balloons each time. The band entertained the crowd between launches.

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Lanterns being lit at the launch site at Pingxi

There were so many people that we could not get into the elementary school where the launch field was located. So we watched the first launch from the road.

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Sky lanterns lifting off from the Pingxi launch site

After the first launch, we managed to work our way into the school field area as people left to go home. It probably helped that it was raining and cold, so most people did not stay around for more than one or two sky lantern launches. We stayed and watched four launches. It was so beautiful.

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Sky lanterns going up in the night sky at Pingxi

Although I had seen the Pingxi Lantern Festival before, it was so amazing that I wanted to see it again!  Pingxi has such beautiful dark skies, with little light pollution at night that so you can see the lanterns glowing and hanging in the night sky for a long time.

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Sky lanterns high up in the night sky above Pingxi

It was a great way to start celebrating the 2014 Lantern Festival!

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