Auckland Chinese Lantern Festival (video)

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Walking down Princes Street last week, I was rather surprised to see giant paper dragons being unloaded in Albert Park. Chinese New Year had already passed, and to celebrate I’d already stuffed my face with ricecakes with a Chinese colleague who sits across from my desk at work.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), in partnership with the Asia New Zealand Foundation and a myriad of sponsors hosted the 15th Auckland Lantern Festival this weekend in Albert Park, so I went along to get some footage:

While Korea also traditionally ran on the lunar calendar and has similar festivities for new year’s day, the lantern festival seems to be uniquely Chinese. It is held on the 15th day of the new (lunar) year to officially mark the end of the new year festivities, which is also the first full moon of the year.

The lantern festival was all rather new for me, so I did a little bit of digging around (à la Google) to find out a little bit more about the festival and its significance.

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As I understand it, lanterns are displayed everywhere and hung on the the awnings of buildings, and paper lanterns resembling mini air balloons would also be lit and sent up into the night sky. This sending off of the lanterns is taken to be symbolic of letting go of the past year and starting afresh.

As for the origin of the festival, there are various different legends all giving the festival and the lanterns a slightly different significance.

I went at dusk for (videographic reasons) and Albert Park was already thronging with people of all different ethnicities. There were intricate lanterns of different shapes and sizes displayed across the park and hung off trees, live performances of both traditional and contemporary Chinese music (although I never understood a random teenager covering a Goo Goo Dolls song with a karaoke machine onstage (Iris – you know, YOU KNOW).

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As a Korean New Zealander, is this part of my culture? Yes – Chinese have a long and rich history in New Zealand, and as a large ethnic minority particularly in Auckland, they have helped shape the society in which I live in and belong to.

While the lanterns were fun to watch, I actually enjoyed watching the interactions of ordinary Aucklanders to the displays and the shows the most (without wanting to sound like an absolute creep). What I saw was genuine interest and fascination, combined with bemusement at the cultural quirks and differences between their own and what they saw at the festival.

I was initially a little uneasy seeing some people wearing bamboo conical hats, particularly given how they have historically been used to depict East Asians in a very negative light (i.e. think 50s Asian Invasion and the Yellow Threat).  But it became apparent that it was merely a genuine attempt to interact and participate in the culture.

To the little girl who was in a sakura-print Yukata (an unlined cotton Kimono worn in summer) – nice try, I’m really happy to see you taking part in festivities even if you didn’t quite get the culture right.

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It’s one thing for a local authority to put on events which celebrate the richness and variety that ethnic minorities bring to a city, it’s entirely another to see so many people actively partaking in the culture. Well done Auckland, you did us proud this weekend.

Haven’t seen it yet? It will be on today until 10:30pm. You snooze you lose. FYI for best results, go at dusk for the fireworks.

– Chris.

Author: Chris Park

One half of the Park Brothers. Purveyor of banter, curator of misc. Manage comms for @BuoyandMine. Read More

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