Being a moderate sized city, Syracuse often misses out on the major cultural events that travel around the country. BUT, this summer we have been blessed with a festival that brings a breath of fresh air to central New York, so much so that it seemed worthy for its own post.
Early this year, there was an announcement that the Chinese Lantern Festival would come to the New York State Fairgrounds in April. Regrettably, it took me over a month before I got the chance to attend the festival due to a hectic schedule and some crazy Syracuse weather. I am so glad I finally got the opportunity to go! I recommend getting to the festival around dusk, so you can truly enjoy the lanterns as they are lit against the night sky – it’s so much more magical than in the daylight.
You begin the festival at the entrance, which resembles the entrance to any Chinatown in any city, but this time it is followed by a long walkway of hanging floral lanterns. Once inside, there is a loop around the newly created pond for you to walk. But first, make sure you sit down to watch the performances. While I’m not sure if the performances are the same every night, the ones that we witnessed were beautiful to watch. First was a dancer practicing traditional Chinese face changing, or bian lian. Second was a pair of women demonstrating their skills with the diabolo, or Chinese yo-yo. The third and fifth acts were both women performing music on traditional Chinese instruments – the pipa and the bamboo flute. Both were absolutely beautiful to listen to! In the middle we witnessed some impressive moves by a contortionist, and the end brought back the diabolos in a great finale. My husband and I agreed that the performances really made the event worthwhile because we were both entertained and educated about Chinese culture.
After the half-hour performance, we walked the path of the lanterns, ranging from the expected – a sculpture for each year of the zodiac, to the whimsical – faeries and peacocks, to the modernized – a scene of characters from the Finding Nemo / Finding Dory franchise. Each display had several pieces, each meticulously designed, and included a short history or description about the meaning. Several spots along the path were encouraged as photo-ops (which of course we took advantage of!), while others were simply spectacles to enjoy.
Halfway around the pond was the souvenir and food stands. The products for sale ranged from somewhat tacky knick-knacks to beautifully handcrafted art and pottery. Items for both kids and adults to enjoy. Food included both typical American fare and an Asian noodle stand. Picnic tables and benches were scattered around the festival so it wasn’t crowded in any one area.
At $15 per person ($13 for seniors, $12 for children 5-16), the cost seemed a little high for what was included. But, it was a delight to have some true culture brought to our little city and it definitely provided us with something new and unique to do. The festival runs through June 24th every night except Mondays. Occasionally there are discount nights for various careers or community/school members so take advantage! This is a special event for central New York and shouldn’t be missed.