Vancouver Lantern Festival illuminates darkest night

19:50, December 23, 2010      

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The longest night of the year shined a little brighter in Vancouver, British Columbia, as thousands of people brought light to the streets at the annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival.

Five neighborhoods throughout the city were illuminated by the glow of handmade lanterns Tuesday, bobbing gracefully in the night. The lights were carried through the streets in processions by community members who were joined at the end of their routes by hundreds of performers, including musicians, dancers and acrobats.

Winter solstice falls annually either on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23 when the sun is directly above the Tropic of Capricorn and the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun.

For those in the northern hemisphere, the date marks the day of the year with the least hours of light, as well as the beginning of the lengthening of the days.

"Everyone experiences (solstice). It's not an idea. It's not based in any particular religion. So people all over the globe have celebrated the same event, which is the returning of the light, but they've all done it in different translations of how they did it, and this is our tradition," said Naomi Singer, the founder and artistic director of the festival.

"One of the things that I love about this event is that everyone who comes in with their lantern," she said. "What we're doing is symbolically enacting what the solstice is, which is a gradual gathering of light."

Vancouver's Winter Solstice Festival began 17 years ago on Granville Island -- a small enclave nestled in a short inlet in the heart of Vancouver and a favorite spot of tourists for its quirky artistic flare -- where Singer was attending art school at the time.

"When I was there, I just had this incredible reverence for all the talented people that were there and I wanted to see them all come together and do something and it wasn't happening," she said.

So she organized a modest event of 800 attendees, with a small lantern procession and coffee night.

The festival has since ballooned in popularity and has grown to attract an estimated 20,000 people each year. The festival is split between different neighborhoods to maintain the intimacy of the experience.

"I wanted it to be a neighborhood thing where people could feel each other and make eye contact and feel completely at home and see their neighbors," Singer said.

Singer won't take all the credit, however. Nowadays the event, which became too big for Singer to handle alone, is organized by the Secret Lantern Society, a non-profit society dedicated to "transforming spectators into performers through celebration."

"I kind of started to liken it to adjusting a prism because I didn't create all of that, all I did was adjusting the prism so that the white light that refracts through it," Singer said, "that's there all the time, you give it a lens and it comes out in this beautiful hokey metaphor of a rainbow."

This year the festival featured hundreds of performers, representing roughly 20 cultures from around the world.

Performances ranged from small jazz ensembles, street bands, choirs, and drum circles, to silk aerial acrobats, Shakti dancers, stilt walkers, and traditional British Morris dancers.

"We incorporate as many different cultures as possible and we've added a lot of new things that we like at the Secret Lantern Society. You know jazz music isn't particularity a traditional solstice celebration," Singer said.

Visitors could also attend lantern-making workshops before the processions began, bond with each other beneath a tree made of glowing paper lanterns, or meditate in one of two labyrinths of light -- a spiraling maze of over 700 pure beeswax candles meant to create a space for self-guided ceremonies intended to release old attachments and envision new possibilities.

"It's all about community. Christmas is a wonderful season, or everybody's got their own thing this time of year, but so often it's just about family, and family's great, but we also, all of our families are part of this huge community," said performer Andrew Brechin.

And amidst the flames, colors, crowds, pulse, and glow of the festival, the message being celebrated is simple -- tomorrow will, literally, be a brighter day.

"Celebrating the return of the sun is the celebration of life and survival through the darkness," Singer said.

Source: Xinhua


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