2012 is the Chinese zodiac Year of the Dragon, the most valued and striking year in the Chinese calendar. No consequence, The Missouri Botanical Garden (MoBot) is presenting the first-ever Chinese Lantern Festival that the United States has ever had. People from across the U.S. are traveling to see 26 stunning displays and to learn fascinating Chinese history and legend. The festival will continue until August 19 and is Thursday through Sunday evenings. Once August begins, the Lantern Festival will take place every evening. Admission is $22 per adult and $10 per child (Garden members receive discounted prices).
People can experience “art by day and magic by night” by admiring the lantern displays during the day or experiencing the once-in-a-lifetime illuminated lanterns at night. During the evenings, vendors sell hand-made jewelry, custom artwork and calligraphy, authentic historic Chinese clothing and more. You can try to earn good luck and fortune by tossing a medallion into the wishing tree or hitting a colored stone in the wishing well. Chinese acrobats perform at the Cohen Amphitheater, and Chinese food will be available as well as MoBot’s own Lantern Festival souvenirs.
Each lantern tells a story from Chinese legend or history. One of the most majestic lanterns is the Porcelain Dragon, two dragons facing each other, stretching almost a football field in length. The lantern display is made entirely of delicate porcelain tableware, from nostrils made of cups to tail fins made of spoons. At 8 p.m. the lanterns are lit, and this lantern in particular plays classical Chinese music. As the two dragons fight over the centerpiece pearl, smoke comes from their noses!
Other notable lanterns and my personal favorites (although, truthfully, all are remarkable) are the Welcoming Dragon, Panda’s Paradise, the Heavenly Temple, and the Four-Faced Buddha. The Welcoming Dragon is the 137-foot long red, orange and yellow lantern that greets visitors at the entrance to the Garden. He cannot be missed! Panda’s Paradise is, of course, in honor of one of China’s most precious and protected animals. These little anime-style pandas hide in their silk-made bamboo habitat. Just try walking by without tilting your head to the side and mumbling “awe.” The Heavenly Temple, modeled after the Beijing Heavenly Temple constructed in 1420, is one of the most overwhelming lantern displays; in fact, an elderly Chinese couple quietly wept when they first saw the temple. It is truly magnificent. The last, and my ultimate favorite, is the Four-Faced Buddha. This lantern display stopped me in my tracks. Each of the four sides has a different portrayal of Buddha with the four traditional Buddhist postures. It is the tallest lantern display, and with the lights at night, it is honestly overwhelming.
All the lanterns are stunning; all the vendors are interesting people with unique Chinese valuables to sell; and the entire event is truly an once-in-a-lifetime experience. I cannot recommend this festival more if you love learning about different cultures and seeing exceptional exhibits; or if you love the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is beautiful all-year long.