The Chinese Lantern Festival shines bright in Franklin Square

Thirty artisans from the Sichuan province of China came to Philadelphia and worked with local technicians to masterfully transform Franklin Square into an illuminated wonderland: the 2019 Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival (中國彩燈節).

Presented by Historic Philadelphia Incorporated, this colorful exhibit depicts both modern and traditional Chinese culture and is a family-friendly event open to the public. The festival boasts a wide variety of lantern exhibits, food stands, and shops, as well as live performances.

During the creation of the festival, the artisans combined modern lantern-making techniques, like wire-frames, instead of traditional bamboo to depict various Chinese landmarks and cultural items. Playful lantern panda bears can be seen eating hot pot together, playing the classic Chinese board game Mahjong, and standing near lantern recreations of famous locations such as the Leshan giant Buddha. Interactive exhibits like the “Spirit of the Dancing Birds” are especially popular among young and old guests who enjoy jumping from pad to pad changing the colors.

A popular stop for guests is the Leaping Fish Noodle House, serving a variety of Chinese cuisine. The festival also offers a variety of food options, including Korean, Japanese, and the classic American grilled corn.

Guests can visit different shops selling wire dragon sculptures, Chinese straw paintings, and calligraphy, just to name a few. One booth, in particular, sells different Chinese musical instruments including the 葫芦丝 (pronounced Húlu sī), which is a special flute made out of a Gourd. The shopkeeper can be seen demonstrating how to play the instruments to interested guests who stay close by to listen.

Live performances include Chinese folk dance, Taiji, a combination of traditional martial art, contortion, and foot juggling, and Bian Lian, also known as Face Changing. Bian Lian is an ancient Chinese dramatic art performed as part of the Sichuan opera, the performer dances across the stage while switching masks at high speeds. The performers came directly from China to share their acts at different times during the night, and sometimes they walk through the crowds for convenient photo opportunities.

People know Historic Philadelphia Inc. for managing Franklin Square, one of Philadelphia’s historic parks near the bustling Chinatown district. What people may not realize is that they have hosted the Lantern Festival for four years. On their website, you can learn about the history of the Lantern Festival as the first important celebration after the Spring Festival in China. The Chinese Lantern Festival originated during the Han dynasty in 220 AD when a village tricked the angered Jade Emperor into thinking their village was already ablaze by putting up red lanterns and lighting fireworks.

The popularity of the festival can be attributed to the diversity of people supporting the event and the international collaboration involved between the Sichuan artisans, skilled performers, local Philadelphian technicians, and the host, Historic Philadelphia Incorporated. This must-see cultural event will enhance your appreciation for Philadelphia’s diverse population and worldly connection. The festival started May 1st and continues through June 30th. 

Tickets may be purchased at the door or online at Historic Philadelphia Inc.’s website:

For more information on the background of the festival, watch this video by Melissa Magee from 6ABC Action News:


Written by Zimri T. Hinshaw on behalf of the Global Philadelphia Association