Lights, Lanterns, and Laughter

Eureka! Missouri, that is.

That is the name of the town I found myself in last Saturday night. Huddled around a fire, s’more in hand, I was looking to the sky.

Alright, lets backtrack a bit. I don’t just spend my nights around campfires in random empty fields for kicks. Once a year, my closest friends and I make our way twenty miles off of Wash U’s campus to join thousands of other people for the Lantern Festival.

It’s a day-long event, filled with live music, merch booths, and activities while the sun is out. The real magic starts when the sun begins to set. This is when we usually show up. We move through the line to get our wristbands, lanterns, and “toolboxes”. These toolboxes are filled with Lantern Fest essentials, markers for decorating your lantern, marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for s’mores, and a lighter to send your lantern into the air.

The original thought behind the fest was that people would use their lanterns to commemorate the memory of someone they lost. Yet, as the event grew, so did the many meanings people attached to their lanterns. Some people use them to send messages to loved ones. Some scrawl secrets on the thin paper, and let them float into the atmosphere. Others make a wish, and let their lantern etch their hopes into the sky.

Once the sun has fully set, and we are full on roasted marshmallows and fire pit stories and laughter, it is time. Everyone lets the wind blow open their lantern and uses a lighter or the flame of a nearby torch to light the base. At the command of a woman on stage, we all let our lanterns go.

I am being honest when I say it is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. Before everyone inevitably whips out their phones and cameras to document the experience, there is a moment of pure awe. Hushed murmurs of amazement float through the air. Everyone watches these letters, confessions, hopes, and wishes soar into the night sky. And, it’s indescribably, tremendously beautiful.