Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Sky Lantern Arrives

We saw a mere handful of sky lanterns for the first time at Wolverine Lake’s annual Tiki Night festival in 2011. This year we saw at least forty of them gracefully wandering the sky, heading generally northward. Obviously they’d come of age in the United States. But, turns out, they are very ancient.

The first illustration shows one from the perfect angle to see how it is made. The image comes from Wikipedia (link) and shows the lantern as it is released at the Yi Peng festival near Chaing Mai in Thailand. “Yi Peng” translates as “second month” and is a big festival in Thailand. Note that the sky is filled with lanterns at all distances. Michigan hasn’t arrived at this sort of density yet…

The second illustration shows a lantern you can purchase for $4.99—or 10 for $39.99. These are the lanterns we saw on the 3rd of July. My source here is ThinkGeek (link).

The Chinese use waxed rice paper and bamboo to form the balloon. The modern kind uses plastic.

The sky lantern is a Chinese invention dating—all depending on the source you use—to either the third century of our era or to the third century BC. In both cases they were used as military signaling devices. The inventor of our time was the military strategist Zhuge Liang Kongmin, the last name being an honorific. They were called Kongming Lanterns. The earlier appearance of the lantern, according to a western historian of science, Joseph Needham, came in the period of the Warring States in China; those were also used for signaling. My source here is Wikipedia at the link above.

We found these lanterns a charming new addition to the festive skies of our own Fourth of July. They are silent, slow, move in various directions depending on the movement of the air at various elevations. When you have nine, ten in the sky at the same time, they form temporary constallations—and these, unlike the fixed ones, keep changing.  

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