Chaotic festival proves magical

Chloe Guillot

Water Lanterns are emotional release for attendees

Marissa Lordahl
Marissa Lordahl | The Falcon

Thousands of people clustered together in a parking lot outside of Green Lake Park, a steady stream of newcomers arriving every minute. Food trucks lined the edges of the lot, each one with a long line of customers extending from the front window.
The noise level continued to increase as the temperature dropped. Parents held their children’s hands tight and groups of friends shouted across the crowd to find each other.

Despite the peaceful intentions of the event, the Seattle Water Lantern Festival got off to a chaotic start.

Attendees of the Water Lantern Festival gathered together in Green Lake Park on Oct. 13, some arriving as early as 3 p.m., to get a spot for the launch at 6:30 p.m. The line to the Seattle Public Theater, the launch site, extended across the length of the adjacent parking lot.

Kate Campisi and Rojette Buchmann, two attendees bundled up in winter coats and fur-lined hats, filed to the back of the line, their tickets in hand and minds frazzled.

“There is no organization, there is no volunteers to ask,” Campisi said.

“I don’t know if I’m in the line for food or the line for the lanterns.”

Campisi’s sentiments could be heard echoed among the other attendees. Groups of friends passed through the crowd, murmuring “Is this the right line?” as they settled into their spot in the back.

For Buchmann, the amount of disorganization felt amplified by the waiting times.

“We just got out of a line to get on the shuttle, and that took 30 minutes. Now we’re here and we’re waiting in another line,” Buchmann said.

At the end of that line, however, was a scene that beautifully contrasted the chaotic nature of the Green Lake parking lot. As soon as attendees stepped through the entrance gate, they were greeted with the vision of thousands of battery-lit candles illuminating a sea of paper lanterns.

Groups of people sat huddled together in the cold night, black pens clutched in their hands as they scrawled elaborate designs and hand-written messages onto the four sides of their lanterns.

Marissa Lordahl
Marissa Lordahl | The Falcon

Ambient music flowed from a stage near the water, providing the perfect backdrop for the night. Compared to the pandemonium in the parking lot, the event itself was a peaceful distraction from the chaos of the city.

“It’s been better than I expected. It’s dark, but it’s candlelit,” Sam Son, a first-time attendee of the Water Lantern Festival, said. “The ambience, and the setting with the music in the background and it being night time with the light, is nice.”

When participants finished decorating their lanterns, they made the short hike down to the waterfront, often snapping a picture of the beautiful scene before setting their lantern in the water and pushing it off into the lake.

A faint yellow glow illuminated the sky, giving attendees a chance to take in the view and meditate on the messages they sent into the water.

Some attendees chose to doodle aimlessly on their lanterns, while others wrote messages of hope and inspiration. Son chose to decorate his lantern with a topic close to his heart.

“The theme I wanted to go with is love because it’s very universal,” Son said. “Just in general, with the world, there needs to be more love. As cheesy as it sounds, that was the theme of it. I put the people that I care about and that I love on there.”

As the night dwindled down, attendees slowly exited the park, snapping a few final pictures before shuffling back to their cars with their commemorative drawstring bags hanging from their backs.

A picturesque scene extended over the lake as thousands of lanterns floated and flickered in unison.

Meanwhile, in the formerly chaotic parking lot, a few last-minute customers waited in line at the now-empty food trucks. Trash cans full of half-eaten food littered the lot as volunteers worked steadily to clean up the mess.

The beauty of the park faded into the background as attendees took their final steps through the lot; the distant memories of long lines and large crowds replaced with mental images of magical paper lanterns hovering above the water.

For college students in their first full month of school after a long summer break, the festival provides a peaceful way to symbolically let go of the stresses of homework and exams to spend a memorable night reflecting on the dazzling spectacle of lights.

Despite its ugly beginning, the lasting beauty of the Water Lantern Festival will not soon be forgotten.