On Catriona Rowntree's first visit to Taiwan she heard about a very special annual festival. The Lantern Festival, also known as Shang Yuan, takes place on the 15th day of the first moon in a series of springtime celebrations. The Chinese New Year Festival is celebrated across the country.
The festival is all about decorative lanterns depicting birds, beasts, historical figures and other themes which carried by children and adorn temples. Competitions are held to highlight the glowing works of art and thousands of lantern watchers delight in their beauty.
The largest and most famous of the competitions is held at Chaing Kai-shek Memorial Hall Plaza but Catriona went to Yilan, a rural village a 90-minute drive from Taipei, Taiwan's capital. During the day it's business as usual, but when the full moon appears, everyone comes out to join in the fun. The local sportsground is transformed into a lighting spectacle. Imagine 150,000 lanterns of all shapes, sizes and designs, glowing in the evening light.
As well as displaying and appreciating lanterns, the festival is celebrated by eating tang yuan, an important custom symbolising family unity. Tang yuan is glutinous rice balls, stuffed with red bean paste and served in a soup with egg swirls.
Lantern riddle parties are also held. Locals love them. A riddle is stuck on the lanterns and people try to solve it. They cover a range of topics and as a build-up to the big night, newspapers, magazines and department stores provide riddles to solve.
Catriona did what everyone else did. The go is to put your name and a wish on a lantern of your choice and wait to see if it comes true. Lanterns are released at random all day long and they drift to the heavens so your prayers can be answered.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2009 is the Year of the Ox. It means we are facing economic downturn all over the world, and the ox, or water buffalo in Taiwan, needs to work harder than ever. The buffalo lantern at the festival Catriona attended was the grandest of all. It was 18m high and hundreds of lights helped it shine the brightest.
The country is lit with LED lights and there are laser shows and fireworks exploding into the sky.
The area Catriona visited has a deep valley location and has a higher rainfall than anywhere else in Taiwan. It doesn't stop anyone. Last year 200,000 people descended on the tiny town for the festival.
Expert lantern makers can produce a lantern in about 20 minutes. The biggest lantern ever was made in 2000. It was six storeys high. That was the last one of such magnitude. It landed on someone's house and they sued, so size limits are now in place!
Yilan, a rural village outside Taiwan's capital, Taipei.
Advance Olympic Travel has an eight-day tour including return flights with China Airlines, accommodation, breakfast, entry fees and sightseeing for $1890 per person twin share from Sydney and Brisbane.
The 2010 Lantern Festival will run between February 28 and March 7, 2010.
For further information
Advance Olympic Travel
2nd Floor, 64 Castlereagh Street
Ph: (02) 9233 8508
Fax: (02) 9232 7039
Visas: Australians do not require a visa for Taiwan if they are staying 30 days or fewer. Passports need to have at least six months' validity.
Electricity: 110V at 60Hz with two flat pins as used in the United States.
Time zone: GMT+8.
Currency: New Taiwan dollar.
International dialling code: + 866.