Celebrating Chinese New Year is a big deal in our household, so we were more than excited to discover that The Magic Lantern Festival was finally being shown for the first time in the UK to mark this auspicious time and the year of the Monkey.
The Lantern Festival spans a rich 2000-year heritage and is a hugely important annual event in Chinese tradition as families gather to celebrate the arrival of the lunar new year.
By 206 BC, during the reign of the Western Han Dynasty, the festival had gained huge significance and become a focal point for communities to come together as children marched through the streets attempting to solve the riddles scrawled on the lanterns they carried.
The tradition grew until lanterns weren’t just carried, but put up in official palaces and along the streets. Over time, the simple lanterns became more extravagant with craftsmen creating huge animals, dragons and depictions of famous landmarks as the nobility sought to display their wealth by displaying the most ornate lanterns.
Held in the stunning outdoor setting of Chiswick House and Gardens, the Festival comprised of an installation of over 50 beautifully sculpted giant lanterns in various shapes and sizes – from animals to buildings, and the stars of the show, a 60 metre-long dragon and a majestic Temple of Heaven.
When we first booked the tickets, I chose a session time of 5.15pm, thinking it would not only be dark, but not too late for Monkey when we finally got home. Unfortunately, I didn’t bargain on the 3-week period leading up to our visit become much lighter!
So when we arrived right on time (after having to park on a residential road some eight minute’s walk away), not only where we horrified to see a sea of people queuing up at the entrance, but it also still no way near getting dark enough to enjoy the lanterns as they were meant to be.
Luckily, we didn’t have to join the queues, because Chiswick House was staggering the entrance times – not sure why people arrived so early just to stand in the freezing cold. And, when we got to the first installation, we decided to wait half an hour before making our way around the circuit.
Even though Monkey was getting restless and cold, I’m glad we did. It made the whole experience much more magical. Dotted around Chiswick House’s impressive grounds, the lanterns were truly impressive. The walk lead us across a classic bridge, around the lake and waterfall cascades via pretty tunnels – we couldn’t help but be enchanted by this delightful display.
Monkey was particularly taken by the animal section which had African wildlife such as giraffes, gazelles and elephants, while I loved the pandas and chinese caricatures. We were all in agreement that the magnificent dragon was definitely a showstopper situated right by the shore of the water.
Even though we had to contend with a large crowd of people, it never felt too claustrophobic – it was possible for us to have photo opportunities along the way. There was even a marshmallow firepit stop half way around, and food stalls at the beginning of the tour and at the end. Expensive treats such as crepes and burger were on offer – but we were disappointed that there was a lack of asian food. Slightly perplexing to see churros available to buy but no noodles at a Chinese festival!
The food options being a big let down, aside, we had a wonderful few hours admiring the immense workmanship of these magnificent lanterns. It really is a great experience for the whole family, and can only hope the Festival will return to the UK again. And if it does, I would highly recommend you book your tickets quickly! We certainly will…
* The Magic Lantern Festival was held for four weeks until Sunday 6 March 2016 at Chiswick House and Gardens, Chiswick, London W4 2RP. There are plans for the Festival to return with a new show in December. Tickets cost £43.78 for 2 adults and 1 child