Over the last few years, a beautiful tradition has emerged in the Lone Star State that illuminates the night sky in celebration. The Lantern Festival in Texas is inspired by Chinese culture but has taken on new meanings that typically revolve around togetherness, hope, peace, and connection.
This celebration of light is a captivating experience, with the floating lanterns putting on a spectacular display in an otherwise dark sky. Several festivals take place throughout Texas, especially near major cities. Each festival is unique and offers a different experience with a unique theme.
Lantern Festival Texas: What You Should Know
If you’ve heard about a Lantern Festival in Texas and want to get involved, we’re here to help. Although you might need to buy Lantern Festival Texas tickets in some locations, many events are free or are at least in operation in conjunction with a charitable cause.
For the most part, the Texas celebrations involve much more than releasing lanterns. As the name suggests, the events take on a festival atmosphere. There are fire pits, barbecues (of course), lantern shops, food stalls, drinks vendors, and oftentimes, live music.
At the bigger festivals, hundreds of thousands of people show up every year. So, if you can’t find a local event after a “Lantern Festival near me” Google search, consider taking a weekend trip to a bigger city and incorporating the festival into your plans. It’s most definitely a family-oriented celebration.
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact, don’t worry. The major Lantern Festival events in Texas are well-managed and have dedicated cleanup crews on site to collect every single lantern and leave the grounds in the same condition they were received in.
Now, let’s take a look at the Lantern Festival in a little more detail.
Sky Lantern Festival History
The Lantern Festival draws its origins from an old Chinese tradition (Shangyuan Festival). The Chinese celebrate it on the fifteenth day of their calendar during the full moon. This is usually in February or March and the festival is a major part of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
In Texas, the festivals don’t follow the same timeline. Most of them take place in September or October. Aside from the lantern and spiritual aspects, the themes don’t necessarily relate to the Chinese traditions. They’re Westernized and tailored to the local culture.
Interestingly, there isn’t a consensus regarding the origins of the Chinese Lantern Festival. But, it’s widely believed that the tradition dates back over 2,000 years to the Han dynasty. Emperor Ming drew inspiration from Buddhist monks who would light lanterns in their temples to mark the turning of the year.
As a follower of Buddhism, Ming decided to order Chinese households to follow suit and light lanterns on that evening. From here, this became a folk tradition. The importance of the festival was felt and emphasized by virtually all emperors who followed Ming.
While this origin story is the most likely, there are several other fun legends that allude to its beginnings. Some involve dragons, heaven, and inspirational stories, all of which buy into the spiritual aspect of the festival. We recommend checking out some of these stories if you have time.
In China, the Lantern Festival marks the changing of the Chinese Zodiac. The Zodiac holds a lot of significance in Chinese culture as it is often used to guide people about life decisions and their future. Animal signs represent each year of the Zodiac and those born that year are believed to take on its specific characteristics.
In 2022, it was the year of the tiger. After the Lantern Festival in 2023, the Zodiac changed to the rabbit.
Why Does Texas Celebrate The Lantern Festival?
Texas is one of the most multicultural states in the country. It’s also the largest in the contiguous U.S. and has the second-highest population. As a whole, Texas does a fantastic job of embracing its vast array of cultures and showcasing the uniqueness of each.
In terms of the Lantern Festival specifically, it has become a global phenomenon. Thousands of lanterns floating in the night sky is a spectacular sight so it’s no surprise that people try to replicate it in other countries. The messages of hope, love, and new beginnings also make for a nice theme.
Although the Lantern Festival originated in China, it’s not necessarily viewed as a Chinese event when it’s celebrated internationally. At least, it’s not marketed that way. So, in Texas, Lantern Festival events are large, fun, family-friendly social gatherings centered on the community.
They’re a wonderful opportunity to promote local tourism and businesses from the area through food and beverage vendors, sponsorships, music, and entertainment. The multicultural fabric of these events is a fun add-on and contributes to the atmosphere and feel of the events.
What Happens At The Lantern Festival?
Seeing as Texas has embraced the Lantern Festival in its own way, the activities and traditions vary in different locations. No two events are necessarily the same and it’s quite common for event organizers to add new activities or change the theme each year.
For the most part, Lanter Festival events loosely follow Chinese traditions, at least in terms of the main elements and activities. However, as you might expect, there’s always an injection of Texas culture, be it through live music performances or local food vendors.
So, if you’ve got your hands on some tickets, here’s what you can expect at a Lantern Festival:
- Lantern displays: Central to all activities are the lanterns. These are typically handcrafted and often feature artwork and paintings. In China, artwork usually features the Zodiac signs or ancient Chinese symbols. In Texas, any artwork is likely to be symbolic of the area or the individual who created it.
- Riddles: In China, it’s common to attach written riddles or questions to the lanterns before they’re released. There are often variations or adaptations to this in Texas, like writing a message of hope or a wish for the future.
- Lantern release: All lanterns are released together into the night sky, providing a breathtaking sight and creating a symbolic moment. This is generally the highlight of the event.
- Performances: In China, people enjoy cultural performances like parades, traditional music, dance, and theater. In Texas, you’re more likely to witness a live band or more local-style performances.
- Food: Several special Chinese foods and snacks are associated with the Lantern Festival. In Texas, there are usually pop-up stalls and local vendors providing the food.
- Fireworks: Large and colorful firework displays are very common in China following the release of the lanterns. This isn’t always the case in Texas but there may be fireworks at certain events.
- Parades: Many Chinese Lantern Festivals involve massive parades with big floats, traditional performances, and music. However, this is generally part of the overall New Year celebrations and is an aspect that doesn’t usually feature in Texan or international festivals.
In China, the Lantern Festival is normally enjoyed by families. It’s a time of celebration where loved ones come together, partake in the traditions, and eat a meal together. They play games and enjoy each other’s company, as well as the public entertainment. Some people also visit temples and shrines for prayer during the festival.
Texas Lantern Festivals tend to last only a few hours and are organized by event companies. In China, the festival is much more culturally significant and is tied into the calendar. So, while Lantern Festivals in Texas are a lot of fun, they’re not as grandiose as in China.
Lantern Festival Texas Near Me: What’s Happening?
Lantern Festival events are held every year all around Texas, especially in the big cities and large metropolitan areas. In general, the bigger the city, the bigger the event. There may also be smaller lantern events in other cities so make sure to research your local area’s event guide.
The events are virtually always family-friendly but many of them last into the night and you can enjoy live music and drinks. There’s generally a lot of delicious food and other fun entertainment like lantern painting, cornhole, s’more firepits, and games. Let’s take a look at some of the events taking place in the big Texan cities.
Lantern Festival San Antonio
In San Antonio, one of the biggest lantern festivals is the Water Lantern Festival, taking place in October each year. San Antonio’s event is different from the more traditional festivals because attendees don’t release their lanterns into the sky. Instead, they place them onto the water and allow them to drift away.
The event takes place at Elmendorf Lake Park on Commerce Street. Gates open at 4 pm. Attendees must buy tickets to get in. From 4 until 8, you can sample some food from the various food trucks, listen to live music, and partake in the games that are set up around the park.
Certain sections of the park are dedicated to lantern design so you can get some help creating a custom piece. The lantern launch begins at 7 pm and you can watch as each individual lantern floats away, illuminating the whole area. The festival themes are hope, happiness, healing, peace, and connection.
Lantern Festival Dallas
There are several fun lantern festivals in Dallas but one of our favorites is the Night Lights at Texas Motorplex event in Ellis County (45 minutes outside of Dallas). In the past, over 250,000 people have attended this spectacular event.
It takes place in Texas race track, ensuring there’s plenty of open space for attendees. Since the location is somewhat outside of the major cities, you tend to have a better view of the night sky. The event takes place at the end of September, usually on a Saturday, from around 3 pm until 9 pm.
Throughout the day, there’s a real festival atmosphere. You can play games outdoors, grab food from the many food trucks and vendors, hang out by the fire pits, and enjoy some alcoholic beverages. There’s also a big stage with fantastic live music performances.
An hour after sunset, attendees gather together and begin to release the lanterns. This part of the event usually lasts around half an hour and you can sit back and admire the magic of a sky filled with handcrafted lanterns.
Lantern Festival Houston
As the biggest city in Texas, there are also several lantern festivals in Houston. Recently, a large events company that specializes in lantern shows, called Lyte, announced that they’ll be hosting a Sky Lantern Festival in Houston in 2023 and potentially beyond.
Lyte Lantern Festival takes place in November. Houston also hosts a Water Lantern Festival, the same as the one in San Antonio, in early November. It’s held at the City Place Plaza.
Other Lantern Festivals In Texas
Lantern festivals in Texas are now trendy so we recommend checking out any events in your local area. But if you want to experience a large event with thousands of people, consider taking a trip to one of the bigger cities, like San Antonio, Dallas, or Houston.
However, it’s important to note that the bigger events, like those mentioned above, are ticketed. Prices can range anywhere from $20 to $50 per person.
- Lantern Festival origins: english.scio.gov.cn
- San Antonio Festival info: waterlanternfestival.com
- Night Lights info: nightlightsevent.com
- Lyte Lantern Festival Houston info: lytefestival.com
Christian Linden is a seasoned writer and contributor at Texas View, specializing in topics that resonate with the Texan community. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Christian brings a wealth of knowledge in local politics, culture, and lifestyle. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Texas. When he's not writing, Christian enjoys spending weekends traveling across Texas with his family, exploring everything from bustling cities to serene landscapes.