One of the most beautiful Taiwanese traditions, this year I celebrated and ask for a prosperous new year myself, follow this summary for all you need to know about the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival.
Pingxi is a beautiful town one hour and a half from downtown Taipei. Is close to the famous town of Shifen, and both places are full of culture and tradition.
Pingxi, Shifen, and Jiufen are a perfect trifecta for a day trip any day of the year, packed with history and Japanese influence their fabulous old streets are full of crafts, food, and entertainment, but, Pingxi becomes the center of attention during the Chinese New Year celebrations and is all because of the lovely sky lantern festival.
This festival has been named “One of the Festivals to attend before you die” by Fodor’s Travel.
What is the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival?
During the first days after the celebration of the Chinese new year, people are aiming and working on the good luck they need for the new year, so, on the first full moon, filled with hope, love, and good wishes for themselves and their beloved ones they pray and ask the gods for one favor, or two!
In the past, most of Taiwanese society was engaged in agriculture. So during this time of the year, they will ask for better soil, better harvest, better animals, and wellness overall. They wrote wishes and prayers in little sky lanterns and light them up to the sky to reach the heavens and hence the gods.
Also, it is believed these sky lanterns were a communication method. During the harvesting times, thieves will attack the village, so most of the villagers will take a safe place in the mountains. Those that stay in the village, the stronger ones to protect as much as they could, will light up the sky lanterns as a message to those hiding, so they’ll know it was safe to go back home.
Nowadays, even though people lives have changed, they all want the same, better jobs, more money, happy and peaceful life, you name it, even love interest and healthy children are amongst the wishes people write on to the sky lantern.
Since it has become one of the major cultural events of Taiwan, there is an event hosted by the government of New Taipei City and the community, celebrated on the 15th day after Chinese New Year. They have concerts with local celebrities, release eight sessions of sky lanterns and give all information about what to expect in the coming year according to the Chinese calendar, this being the year of the Dog.
You don’t want to miss this event, is breathtaking to see around 100 gigantic sky lanterns fly at the same time! The event at the main square lasted from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm. So make sure you arrive there on time.
Besides lighting up the sky lanterns at the main event, you can also purchase your own at the local shops, they can go from $150NTD to $350NTD, it depends on how many colors you want.
What each color represents:
Each color represents a different area you would like to focus your wish on, can be money, health, love, etc. There are sky lanterns with one color, four colors or eight colors. Each color stands for:
- Red: Health and peace. The most popular one.
- Yellow: Money and wealth.
- Blue: Career and promotion.
- White: Future and brightness.
- Orange: Love and marriage.
- Green: Vigour and success.
- Magenta: Attraction and popularity.
- Pink: Bliss and joy.
Choose what is best for you, mix and match each color with the others as you want, make sure you write or draw all your wishes, and then be ready to pose and send it to the skies.
There is also the chance to make your own sky lanterns, you will find two or more stores in the old street that can teach you!
What to eat during the sky lantern festival.
Since everything you do during these first days will help you create a prosperous year, even your food plays a very important part.
What you can’t miss during these days is Yuan Xiao 元宵 (yes, the same character as money!). These are little dumplings made of rice with a sweet filling (red bean, sesame paste or peanut butter most likely) and covered with rice flour dough.
The roundness of the dumpling symbolizes family unity, happiness, and good luck.
Either way, the old street has a lot to offer for you to snack during your time there. We tried some fried squid, potato fries, and an amazing peanut butter and cilantro ice cream burrito!
How to get to Pingxi?
From Taipei Main Station, Songshan Station or Nangang Station, take the train headed north to Ruifang. Then you need to switch to the train going to Shifen. There are boards in the main entrance, double check the train number and departure time here. Also, there is bus 795 from Taipei Zoo.
During the Chinese New Year celebrations, when the main festival is happening, there is a special shuttle going out every 15-20 minutes from Taipei Zoo, which is accessible by the brown line of the MRT. You will find two lines, one if you want to go seated, and the other one to go standing, have this in mind since the ride up there can last from 45 to 60 minutes.
Make sure you check the updated info for the day you are going!
If you would like to make a day out of this, check Sandiaoling Waterfall Trails, very close!
Environmental concerns, cleaning afterward!
I won’t deny that this is a beautiful tradition and that I enjoyed every second, but there is a big elephant in the room!
Sorry to be the party pooper, but I don´t seem to find this information anywhere else. Everyone loves going to this festival, they light up one, two or more sky lanterns, wander around and then return home.
But do you know what happened to those sky lanterns? Yeap, they turned off and fall down, polluting and damaging much life in the surrounding areas. Most likely the paper and the bamboo will disintegrate, however, the wiring of the structure remains.
It is until recently that people have realized this situation. There was a clean up hiking, like the one coordinated by a tour agency, called My Taiwan Tour. These efforts are important, but there are areas that can’t be reached by hikers, therefore, will remain polluted.
Some people are calling to finish the festival, extreme due to the cultural significance, however, I believe it can be much greener.
When you are the foreigner, most of the times you find yourself learning and trying to adapt the best you can. But during my time at the festival, I could relate to almost everything that was going on.
I saw many people from everywhere enjoying time with friends and relatives, writing and drawing their messages and wishes hoping to send them to the skies somehow will help achieve them.
Sounds like a fantasy, I know, but we as humans sometimes need to touch those feelings and desires to make them real.
I saw many people asking for world peace, asking for prosperity and happiness. Even us, as a newlywed couple, were inspired by our hopes and ambitious for our life together, as a couple and individuals.
The most touching part of them all, seeing people writing love notes to their deceased love-ones.
I enjoyed the festival and all the symbolism behind it is something worth your time if you are ever in Taipei.
If you are an expat in Taipei keep in touch with the main cultural and traditional events, listed by the Tourism Board.
- Have your camera with you, plenty of photos worthy moments awaits you!
- Use public transportation, is too crowded and difficult to park near the main event.
- Arrive early and experience both sides of the town, during the day and during the night.
- Make sure you wear a nice comfy jacket and have an umbrella with you. These are the last days of winter, which can be chilly, especially at night.
- Wander around thru all the train lines, be aware, though, as it is in use. Locals have created a remarkable mechanism to let people know the train is coming: shouting to move like crazy!
- Have as much food as you can, you won’t regret it.
Hope you find this information useful if you want to know something more don’t hesitate and leave a comment!