When it comes to Chinese New Year celebrations, few can do better than London. From Trafalgar Square’s dazzling opening ceremony to Chinatown’s snazzy parades, thousands flock to the capital each year to its revel in our magnificent displays.
Another undisputed jewel in the Capital’s party-throwing crown is the Magic Lantern Festival. From 19 January – 26 February, the annual event transforms Chiswick House and Gardens into a magical wonderland of giant, showstopping illuminations, celebrating the year of the Rooster.
More than fifty beautifully handcrafted lanterns have been spread across the picturesque gardens to mark the start of Chinese New Year on 28 January.
This year’s theme is the Silk Road; the ancient trading route that linked East with the West during the Hans Dynasty from 202 BC – 9 AD. The much-revered route saw China rise to power as one of the world’s great trading nations through its trade of silk, textiles, gems, tea and other precious goods.
Speaking at the festival’s opening, co-creator David Lee said: “We’re trying to bring together and celebrate the traditions and culture of China with aspects from other cultures along the Silk Road”.
To celebrate the Road, the festival follows its own mini Silk Road; with each lantern specially designed to represent landmarks, scenes and symbols from the different cultures that played a part in its history. The question is: how many can you spot?
The Adventure begins in modern-day London, with a 15 metre wide version of the House of Commons. The dazzling red and blue structure – complete with guard – is a charming tribute to the city’s role in the Silk Road revival. As China re-opens the ancient road this year, London will be the final stop for its first ever freight train service to the UK – bringing exciting new trading opportunities between both nations.
After a brief stay in the Capital, it’s time to hit the City of Lights. Just around the corner, representing Paris, is a giant neon Eiffel Tower, flanked by a parade of very chicly dressed, illuminated figurines. The fashionable scene is a nod to Paris’s role as a destination along the new Silk Route. Ooh la la!
Other highlights on this colourful European tour include a stunning re-imagining of Rome’s Coliseum and Amsterdam’s iconic windmills.
It’s then time to embark on a Middle Eastern voyage through Arabia, Egypt and Persia. First up is Egypt, where a candy-coloured confection of pyramids, camels and sphinxes celebrates Alexandria’s role as a major sea route that connected ancient Rome with China.
Disney fans are in for a huge treat; a depiction of Aladdin – complete with Jafar, genie and a lamp salutes Arabia’s rich folklore heritage. Legend has it the tale was told by travellers on the Road.
India’s contribution to the route is also explored, with highlights including glittering neon pink buddha and a colourful host of ancient mythological symbols.
Also packed throughout the breaktaking display are symbols relating to Chinese culture – from cute bamboo-guzzling panda to luck-bringing Koi Carp to Manga characters stirring up mischief inside a noodle bowl. Also watch out for Kung Fu panda!
This hypnotising voyage of discovery ends in China (where else!). The centrepiece is a stunning, full-size replica of the ship used by Admiral Zheng during his exploration of India during the 1400s. Cast against the night sky, the neon figure is the stuff Instagram dreams are made off: dazzling pinks and blues bounce off the water below, while a glowing fleet of dolphins and cacti dance around its base.
If you thought Chinatown’s arches were impressive, wait till you behold the Festival’s very own. The dazzling red and gold structure, festooned with pretty flowers and swinging lanterns, guides visitors towards the trail’s final, breathtaking artwork: full-sized, illuminated Chinese palace. Two words: #breathtaking #nofilternecessary.
The spellbinding experience doesn’t end there. Once you’ve finished the trail, there is lots of entertainment on offer, including an ice rink, mini fun-fair and a virtual reality experience. If all that exploring has got you feeling peckish, there are loads of food stalls selling everything from Asian street food to burgers and mouthwatering churros. Yum!
For more details, and to buy tickets for the Festival, please follow this link.
Photos © Cristiana Ferrauti