Fascinated by Chinese lanterns? Then head out to Calgary Zoo for 'Illuminasia' where you will be thrilled by the display of 366 lanterns, internally lit to provide a magical evening's stroll passed tableaux depicting different species of animals, birds, flowers and plants.
The lanterns are a truly wonderful spectacle especially if, like me, you are bewitched by all things bright and beautiful. Illuminated birds 'fly' among the trees and leaping dolphins guide you across the Discovery Trail Bridge on to St George's Island where family groups of animals greet you around every corner. Giant butterflies 'hover' above your head in the conservatory and mandarin ducks float among lotus flowers on the pond, their colourful forms reflected in the black water.
The first of its kind in Western Canada, the Illuminasia lantern and garden festival showcases the skills of China's lantern-makers whose craft dates back 800 years. Historically, lanterns were lit to show respect for Buddha, a tradition which evolved to become an annual event, the Lantern Festival, marking the end of the Chinese New Year. Lighting a lantern symbolises illuminating the future and expressing best wishes for your family.
All of the lanterns displayed at 'Illuminasia' were hand-made by more than 40 artisans in the Sichuan Province of China and shipped 10,000km to Calgary. Each lantern was created using a three-dimensional wire frame covered with silk rayon which was hand painted, adding colour and detail. LED lights are used to light the lanterns from within, reducing the energy usage.
Calgary Zoo commissioned these works of art, with the support of Sinopec China, to further enhance its connection with the city's Chinese community in anticipation of the arrival of two giant pandas in 2018, on loan from China.
The festival will also raise money for the Zoo's Centre for Conservation Research, which is recognised as a North American leader in the science of species reintroduction.
As well as the lantern displays, Calgary Zoo has organised entertainment every evening, themed around China, Japan and India for consecutive periods during the Festival. When we were there 'Experience Japan' was the theme and the entertainment included Taiko Drumming, a Sake Ceremony and the magician Atsushi Ono. If you want to see the entertainment make sure you take your seat well before the 8pm start as the seating area becomes full very quickly.
Parking for Illuminasia is in the Zoo's north car park at 84 St. George's Drive NE, north of Memorial Drive and there is a parking fee of CN$5.