Let It Glow: Candle Festivals that light up the night-time skies around the world… and that you should go to at least once in your lifetime.
There is nothing more otherworldly than entering an after-dark festival - add music, rituals and a plethora of candles, and you’ve got an almost ethereal Avatar-like experience not to be missed. Candle festivals or festivals of light are some of the most enchanting experiences on the planet and carry rich cultural, spiritual, and poetic significance. From India and Israel, to Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, here is our round-up of five of the most spectaculer festivals of candles that you must see at least once in your lifetime:
1. Diwali Festival of Light: India (November)
Diwali is one of India's most important festivals of the year, with more than a billion people from all different faiths celebrating the five days of Diwali, marked with lots of pomp and splendour. While the festival's significance carries nuanced differences according to the region and within the traditions of Hinduism, a common thread of symbolism remains the same – a celebration commemorating the victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, and good over evil.
Diwali derives from the ancient Sanskrit word Deepavali, which generally translates to a row of lights. Hence, Diwali is also known as the festival of lights, marked with endless rows of lit candles and small burning oil lamps made of clay that grace window sills of houses, along the streets and at ritual prayers, feasts, and family gatherings.
The Diwali Festival of Light is also celebrated in other countries with Hindu communities, including Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka and even in communities within Australia.
2. Koyasan Candle Festival: Japan (August)
Every August, Japan signals Obon, the ancient tradition of paying respects to ancestors and those who have passed. Welcoming fires, known as Mukaebi fires, blaze brightly in front of people's houses to guide these ancestral spirits back home. At the sacred Okunoin Temple on Koyasan (one of the key centres of Japanese Buddhism), around 100,000 flickering candles light the two-kilometre path. These candles guide pilgrims to the temple, where they can pray and show their respects to the souls that inhabit the grounds. If you journey here for the festival, be prepared as artisan candlemakers offer candles en route to light your way.
3. Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festivals of Lights, Thailand (November)
The famous Thai festivals of lights - Loy Krathong and Yi Peng - are some of the most enchanting events for locals and visitors alike. At Loy Krathong, thousands of handmade floats made from banana stalks and decorated with banana leaves, candles, and flowers, drift peacefully down waterways on the night of the full moon. The intention behind these floating nests is to release anger and bad luck. At Yi Peng, beguiling paper sky lanterns slowly drift towards the heavens by the thousands, and inside, they each carry a little candle. The experience is enchanting, intending to promote reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness.
Reminder: the dates of these festivals are guided by the Thai lunar calendar but typically fall around November. The exact dates are announced about two months prior.
4. Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival of Lights, Taiwan (February)
If you missed the sky lanterns of Yi Peng in Thailand, head over to Taiwan for the annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festiva. Each city marks this celebration with Temples lit with ornate hand-crafted lanterns and parks decorated with elaborate lights illuminating the night sky in the Taiwanese village of Shifeng. This small hillside town, located in the north of the island, is where over 100,000 visitors descend to participate in the mass releases of rice paper lanterns whose mesmerising glowing lights fill the sky above Shifeng. This festival was voted one of the best festivals on the planet by Discovery Channel a few years ago, and the tradition is believed to date back some 1,800 years dates back to the Qing dynasty as a way for Zhuge Lian, a military leader, to send signals to his troops.
Today it’s not military messages, but people's names, wishes, and hopes for the new year written on the lanterns before they ascend slowly into the night-time skies and to the gods. It is estimated that around 200,000 lanterns are released each year, and Pingxi is the only place sky lanterns are allowed in Taiwan, as the mountains and water prevent them from flying too far away.
5. Hanukkah Festival of Lights (December)
A celebration every year, more than a festival. Hanukkah (Hebrew for Dedication) Festival of Lights (also known as Chanukah) is one of the most popular holidays in the Jewish calendar and is celebrated worldwide. The ritual celebrates a fight for religious freedom. It commemorates the successful rebellion and recapture of the Holy Temple, the premier site of ancient Judaism, from their oppressors over 2,000 years ago. Hanukkah is as much a festival of lights as of hope and liberation. Not dissimilar to Diwali, thousands of lit candles decorate houses and streets on an eight-armed candelabrum called Hanukkiah. Over eight consecutive days, a new candle is lit every night and blessings and prayers are made. While there are Hanukkah celebrations worldwide, one of the best places to participate in Hanukkah is in Israel. The Old City of Jerusalem comes to life with thousands of flickering candles lighting the streets and temples.
What candles to use at candle festivals?
If you are doing your own festival and rituals at home or in your community, here are some of our ritualist candles:
Floating candles: Our floating lotus is very popular. Our bee and flower candle is also a great floating candle.
Carrying your candle? Our taper candles are the best for taking with you.
Candle for lanterns: Our tea lights in our clear glass holders are perfect to light a lantern.
More annual candle festivals? Have you been to a candle festival? Upcoming event? Let us know and we can share so everyone can put it on the wish list.