Decorative lanterns hold a special place in Chinese culture.
The art form goes back more than a thousand years. They represent hope for good fortune and prosperity. They symbolize happiness.
“Lanterns represent the hopes we have for the coming year,” said Yi Zhou, UNC-Chapel Hill professor of Asian Studies. “And they’re part of our New Year’s celebration.”
Chinese lanterns will be celebrated over the next several weeks in Cary as the town hosts the N.C. Chinese Lantern Festival at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre for the fourth year. The festival is open Friday, Nov. 23 through Sunday, Jan. 13.
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Miao Zhang of Tianyu Arts & Culture, the company putting on the festival, said all the lanterns are new for this year’s festival. Pandas, koi fish, peacocks, and pagodas, among other lantern types, are making their debuts in Cary. The highlight is a new 200-foot dragon that will take its customary place on Symphony Lake, he said.
Cary Cultural Arts Manager Lyman Collins said having a refreshed lineup of lanterns will give festival-goers a different experience.
“It may be the fourth year for the festival, but it will be different from the first three,” he said. “It’s good they’re changing it up and not bringing back the same lanterns from year to year.”
Most of the lanterns were made by hand in Zigong, Sichuan, the lantern capital of China for thousands of years. The steel frames of varying sizes and shapes have a weather-resistant silk fabric stretched over them and are lit with hundreds of LEDs. Artisans now are busy unpacking the 19 shipping containers it took to get them from China and assembling them.
Besides the new lanterns, tickets for the festival have gotten a new twist. Tickets that can be used on any day of the festival are being offered for the first time, along with tickets for specific days.
“The new tickets are another option for people who may not know what night they want to come but they know they want to come,” amphitheatre manager Taylor Traversari said. “And if they’re being given as a gift, it lets the people receiving them decide when they want to come.”
Any-night tickets are $20 for ages 3 and above. Prices for Fridays, Saturdays and holidays range from $10 to $18 if purchased at the gate. Prices for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sunday are $10 to $15. Discounts for seniors, military and college students are available.
Ticket sales have been brisk, Collins said. He estimated they’re about 30 percent ahead of last year’s presale mark.
Visitors enter the festival through huge scarlet lantern gates, in the form of a four-story pagoda with spinning upper floors. Paths are lined with the lanterns and they lead to the lake where the new dragon can be viewed. There also will be three nightly performances on the main stage by Chinese dancers, acrobats and drummers, as well as martial arts demonstrations. It takes about 45 to 75 minutes to view the lanterns and see one of the cultural performances.
Attendance last year was about 84,000, despite losing four nights because of icy conditions when the festival was closed. The first festival in 2015 attracted about 52,000 people.
“I think people just see it as a unique event, that there’s there’s nothing else quite like it,” Collins said. “It’s at a time of year when people are in a festive spirit anyway. And also people tend to have lots of visitors and guests. And so it’s something that you can do with, you know, with your out-of-town visitors or your neighbors.”
What: North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival
When: Nov. 23-Jan. 13. Open daily from 6 to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays except for Dec. 24 and 31.
Tickets: For night-specific tickets, advance tickets are $15 for adults or $18 at the gate; $10 for youth 3 to 12 or $12 at the gate; and free for children 2 and younger. Discounts for seniors (55 and older), college students with ID and military on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Any-night tickets are $20.
Where: Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary
Info: 800-514-3849 or boothamphitheatre.com