By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Several Chinese artists and artisans have transformed meters of silk and LED lights into dragons, pandas, a 50-foot Santa Claus, and even the Space Needle at the Lantern Light Festival in Puyallup.
Not even the rain could play spoilsport as about 3,000 visitors armed with umbrellas and rain gear made their way to the Washington State Fairgrounds on Saturday, Nov. 25.
They were there to see how designs drawn on paper were recreated in silk by the hands of skilled artisans into forms as varied as the April tulips that bloom in Skagit Valley. Also on display was a giant red and yellow dragon that turned its head to welcome them while billowing smoke. Pinnacle Production Group, headed by Sanjay Syal, undertook the task of recreating a lantern festival in the Seattle area to give visitors a tiny glimpse of what a traditional Chinese lantern festival looks like.
Syal has been in the business for more than 20 years. He is associated with massive family entertainment productions, such as Sesame Street Live, Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival, and Discover the Dinosaurs. It was during the process of putting together the Discover the Dinosaurs show that Syal visited Zigong in the Sichuan province of China, where several dinosaur fossils were excavated in the 1980s. While orchestrating pieces for the dinosaur show, Syal came upon the Chinese Lantern Festival and discovered several well-known artists and artisans who painstakingly created beautiful displays by hand. Lantern festivals in China are wildly popular, marking the 15th day of the Lunar New Year and the end of the Spring festival, but Syal realized that several in the Western world hadn’t had the fortune of witnessing one.
So, he brought the Lantern Light Festival to Miami and Memphis last year, which was incredibly popular. This year, the Minneapolis-based organization brings the festival to Minneapolis, Seattle, and Tulsa. “All the lanterns at the festival were created specifically for this event. Artists created each design on paper and then a team of artisans worked to create and assemble them. The smaller lanterns were made in China and shipped to the United States on 30 containers,” Syal said. The artists have now returned home, with only a small team left behind to handle maintenance and wear and tear.
The lanterns, artists, and artisans came to Seattle in October and began setting up the event at the site in Puyallup. Syal’s event company organizes everything from their visas to getting translators for the group that speaks very little or no English.
“The individual humps of the dragon were created in China and assembled on site in Puyallup,” Syal explained. He pointed to painted designs on the lanterns and said, “Artists created all this by hand, each and every brush stroke. People don’t realize the amount of work that has gone into creating each silk lantern,” he added.
As you enter the event gates, you walk through the Lantern Tunnel — a canopy of traditional red lanterns and traditional Asian music sets the tone for the event. A little further is a replica of the Space Needle and Pike Place Market created especially for the festival. While artists have created a display of the Western Zodiac signs, I wished there was a parallel display of the Chinese Zodiac. To make up for it, however, was the Wishing Tree and 400-foot-long dragon. There’s also a fun house flanked by a clown who, as a recent IT watcher, I christened Pennywise.
While Syal recounted roaming around in shorts at the festival in Miami, he was surprised at the turnout on the rainy Saturday. “I’m surprised to see so many people out and at the festival. If this was the Midwest or any other place, there’d be no one around,” he said. The special attraction for Syal is a 50-foot-tall Santa Claus that you can walk through. It’s also one of the places that you can ‘accidentally’ brush your fingers against the silk used to create all the pieces at the show.
For those who want more than lanterns to make the drive to Puyallup worthwhile, the event has Chinese acrobats that perform the Bian Lian or Face-Changing Sichuan Opera (just pray it doesn’t rain). There’s a gift shop with souvenirs, but what beats that is a row of artists that create and sell finger paintings, needlepoint designs, and jade objects.
Since it is family entertainment, there’s mini golf, bouncy castles for kids, face painting, and activities such as dinosaur rides and mining for emeralds. There’s also a food court, but food options are limited. If you really want good Chinese food, you may have to wait until you’re back in Seattle.
Everybody likes a good fireworks display, and the event promises that on their website but warns that bad weather cancels it. If the weather permits, Saturdays are a good bet to witness fireworks.
If you do plan to see the Lantern Light Festival, make sure you buy your tickets online to avoid standing in long lines at the venue. Tickets can be bought online in advance and redeemed any day the festival is open. “On opening day (Friday, Nov. 24) we had over 8,000 people visit the show.
They had to wait in line for 45 minutes,” Syal said, advising visitors to buy tickets online. If you want to bring in 2018 a little differently, the festival is open until 1 a.m. on Dec. 31 and promises a fireworks display.
Dates and Times:
Nov. 24–Jan. 7 Thu–Sun 5–10 p.m.
Nov. 24–Jan. 7 Fri & Sat 5–11 p.m.
Dec. 14–Jan. 1 Open every day 5–11 p.m.
Sun Dec. 23 Christmas Eve close at 9 p.m.
Dec. 31 open till 1 a.m.
Buy tickets online: lanternlightfestival.com/seattle.
Janice can be reached at email@example.com.