Despite the inexhaustible varieties of Chinese Holidays, one will always find a lantern hung up on a door frame or dancing underneath telephone lines. Bright red markers of Chinese celebration swing, lanterns customarily appear during Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and––omnipresently––during the Lantern Festival. It is the months between these imminent festivals that people scurry to purchase these lanterns on post-season sale or allot the time to make their own.
The History of Lanterns
Lanterns, the most significant custom of the Lantern and Mid-Autumn Festivals alike, are also the oldest. They began in the Western Han Dynasty, flourished in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, and were passed onto later generations. Lanterns beautify the streets with luminescent buds, provide a blank canvas for riddles, and utilize their own intimate language to allow loved ones to identify each other.
During ancient times, peasants held torches on the farm to drive out the insects and pests and pray for a good harvest. Ancient people also utilized “sky lanterns 放天灯” as war signals to signal peace after escaping from bandits. Gradually, the lanterns evolved into a folk activity to acknowledge one’s wishes. People fill the lanterns with prayers before releasing them into the sky, hoping for the lantern to reach heaven and receive infinite hope.
- Glue and/or staple
- Optional: pens, colored pencils, or watercolor paint for decoration
Act 1: The Multicolored Monarch
- Cut strip off side of paper. Reserve it: this will be the lantern handle later on.
- Fold the larger piece in half.
2. Starting from the folded-crease-side, cut strips almost until you reach the end. The thinness of the strips will depend on your aesthetic preferences. In the picture depicted left, I aimed for skinny strips.
3. Open up the fold, and staple both ends of the page (portrait/hotdog).
4. To enliven the lantern with more multidimensionality, I inserted a tube of purple-colored paper, letting several inches hang underneath. I stapled the outer shell and the tube together.
5. Cut the leftover paper into strips to create the hanging lantern “string” effect.
Act 2: Rounded-Out Regal
This paper lantern takes on a less angular and stringy approach, but still can tussle in the wind.
- Start out with two different colored pieces of paper. Cut one into roughly even strips. Roll the other one into a tube.
- I glued two strips to the ends of the tube, but this step could be done at the end as well.
3. I added simple Chinese characters in the traditional top-to-bottom style. I wrote out roughly four festivals during which my family hangs up lanterns: Lantern Festival 元宵节, Chinese New Year 春节, The Winter Solstice 冬至, and Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节.
4. Glue the end of a strip to both ends of the tube. Continue until you finish all strips.
Once finished, for cleanliness, reserve two strips to glue over the uneven ends.
Act 3: Noodle Bowl Knight
This is the simplest, most basic version, but begs the most artistic creativity: noodle magic. This lantern mimics a classic noodle bowl you may find in any Asian restaurant, where the lantern slivers act as noodles pulling out of a bowl.
I hope you enjoyed making these minimal, yet dangerously delightful lanterns. Engage with you soon, my fellow asthetes!