It’s like your crazy neighbor’s most extravagant Christmas light display, except it’s April. And it’s Chinese.
“The enormity, the size of everything is so breathtaking,” said Jim Fong, ogling the spectacle of the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival. “We normally don’t have things like this in Chinatown.”
On Thursday evening, Franklin Square flipped the switch on the festival, illuminating 28 vignettes of pandas, tulips, a three-story pagoda, a fanciful lotus garden, and a herd of pandas. The centerpiece is a 200 foot dragon snaking 20 feet high.
“I’m around four feet, which is about the size of the foot,” said Stella Wolson, 8, giving some perspective. “My dad’s about six feet, which is the size of the mouth.”
The dragon, an enduring symbol of strength in Chinese culture, has its own beer garden.
The festival will take over the park every night for the next seven weeks. Franklin Square will be surrounded with blackout fencing for the duration; after 6 p.m. the public park will be restricted to only ticket holders ($17 adults, $12 children). A portion of the proceeds goes to Historic Philadelphia, the nonprofit overseeing the maintenance of programming in Franklin Square.
The rest of the revenue goes to Tianyu Arts and Culture, a Chinese company packaging its Lantern Festival for several cities around the country and the world. Philadelphia is the only city in the Northeast to host the festival.
The Sichuan province of China, where Tianyu’s parent company is based, has a deep history in the lantern-making tradition. These lanterns were all made on-site; during the month before launch workers were welding the steel infrastructure of each piece in Franklin Square, outfitted them with fabric and LED lights.
The 7-week festival will include nightly performances of traditional Chinese acts. Traditional crafts will also be on display and for dale, and the Square Burger food concession will be open during festival hours.