There was a new cultural event to grace the stage of the Phoenix-area’s celebrations this year: The Chinese Lantern and Folk Festival. The festival was hosted by Fountain Hills, in the city’s namesake park, and the Universal Cultural Organization, which works to created cultural understand and friendship between the United States and China.
The main attraction of the festival, as it’s name suggests, were the large, beautiful lanterns that lined the Fountain Hill Lake’s shore in honor of the Chinese New Years, and the arrival of the Year of the Horse. The lanterns themselves were like nothing I had ever seen before, and even from the pictures of the festival online, I had little understanding of what I would see. About the size of parade floats, the lanterns were beautifully lit depictions of Chinese folk tales. A mix of painted, translucent materials, and sculpted figures, each and every lantern was a piece of art in its own right. I couldn’t help but try to take pictures of them from all angles. Every photo told a different story, as each lantern had been carefully, lovingly created, and each small detail from the clouds and plants of the lantern base, to the painted faces of the figures that strode across the stage of each one told a different story.
In conjunction with the artwork celebrating the new year, the festival hosted dancing, martial arts demonstrations, puppet shows, and traditional music performances. Unfortunately, I came to the festival too late to catch anything other than music performances; so I can’t account for this aspect of the celebration.
In my opinion, seeing the lanterns with Fountain Hills’ massive fountain in the backdrop was well worth the price of $12 that was charged on entry. That being said, I was aware of several visitors who expressed disappointment at what their money bought them. Being its first year, the festival did have a few things I thought could have been improved, especially in light of what I have seen in Phoenix’s Aloha Festival and Matsuri. For one, there was only one stand serving Chinese food. Part of what I really enjoy about cultural festivals is the chance to try different foods, and in the case of foods that I am familiar with, I enjoy learning about new restaurants in the Phoenix area. This isn’t something that happened at the Chinese Lantern Festival. There was also a distinct lack of shops, which was similarly disappointing.
It may be that more was going on at the festival earlier in the day, but even if it wasn’t, I know that the first year that these sort of things are organized can be somewhat bumpy. I am looking forward to seeing how the festival evolves and grows in the coming years.