Fighting Crowds at the Taipei Lantern Festival

The Taipei Lantern Festival opened on Feb. 4, and I decided to check it out. I haven’t done anything on Lantern Festival (元宵節) since I lived in China, and back then it mostly entailed eating tangyuan (湯圓), a glutinous rice ball filled with sesame. It was not something I enjoyed eating.

mazu lantern
Cartoon sculpture of Mazu by Wei Zong Cheng

In case you don’t know, Lantern Festival is the 15th day of the lunar year in China/Taiwan. It marks the end of the New Year celebrations (at least that was about when the fireworks stopped when I lived in China) and its origins date back to the Han Dynasty. This year, the holiday falls on Feb. 11, but Taiwan likes to extend its celebrations.

Beimen Lantern Festival
Projections on Beimen

As I had to write an article about Lantern Festival celebrations around Taiwan, I decided I might as well check out at least one of them (the nearest one sounded best). I wasn’t too thrilled about it being held at Ximending as it’s a crowded area filled with tourists and locals shopping — I hadn’t been to this area of Taipei in over a year.

rooster lantern
A young girl holds a rooster lantern

What I expected to see was plenty of traditional lanterns hanging along the streets as well as artistic light displays — I saw some photos of the light installations at the Taichung Lantern Festival and thought Taipei might have something similar. I was disappointed. However, there were some interesting art displays.beimen lantern festival

The only light show I saw was the projection on Beimen (north gate), which was built in 1884, 11 years before Japanese occupation. Fortunately, I managed to get a lot of photos of the projections on the gate as it was the most interesting and least crowded display.beimen lantern festival

The closer I got to Ximending from Beimen, the more crowded the sidewalk became — and it’s a wide sidewalk along that road. At the center of Ximending was the main stage, where a Japanese band was performing (my friend said they were worth seeing). I couldn’t get anywhere near that stage.

Ximending lantern festival
Stage area in Ximending

As I gave up getting closer to the performance, I decided to take a few steps back toward the intersection to check out the art/light displays across the street. Even with the sound system, I couldn’t hear the music over the sound of the traffic that hadn’t been blocked from the area. The city expected 300,000 people to visit the area on the first night and they still allowed traffic to flow as usual!

taipei lantern festival
School lantern displays

It was difficult to cross the street as hundreds of people were bumping into one another in the crosswalk with cars and motorbikes in the cross street. This was absurd. At this point I gave up and headed back toward Beimen on the opposite side of the street.

taipei lantern festival
The street lights and traffic

I found some more fun lantern displays around Zhongshan Hall — it looked like they were all made or designed by local schools. Some were definitely better than others.

taipei lantern festival
Classical music performance behind Zhongshan Hall

There wasn’t much else going on along the walk back to the metro station, so I decided I had had enough. The crowd had drained all my energy (or what little I had for the day). I had finally experienced Lantern Festival in Taipei and I was fine with avoiding it for as long as I remain in Taiwan.

Have you ever attended a crowded event and only been disappointed? What was the event and why was it disappointing?

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