Sky lantern

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A modern Kǒngmíng lantern
Sky lanterns, Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art, Loire Valley, France
Yi Peng (Loi Krathong) festival in Tudongkasatan Lanna (Lanna Meditation Retreat Centre), Mae Jo Chiang Mai, Thailand

A sky lantern (traditional Chinese: 天燈; simplified Chinese: 天灯; pinyin: tiāndēng), also known as Kǒngmíng lantern (traditional Chinese: 孔明燈; simplified Chinese: 孔明灯), or Chinese lantern, is a small balloon made of paper, with an opening at the bottom where a small fire is suspended.

Sky lanterns have been made for centuries in cultures around the world, to be launched for play or as part of long-established festivities. The name sky lantern is a translation of the Chinese name but they have also been referred to as sky candles or fire balloons.

Several fires have been attributed to sky lanterns, with at least two 21st-century cases where deaths occurred.[1][2] Sky lanterns have been made illegal in several countries such as Vietnam which has banned the production, sale, and release of sky lanterns throughout the country since 2009. Many areas of Asia do not permit sky lanterns because of widespread fire hazards as well as danger to livestock.


Making sky lanterns in Mexico
A very large sky lantern in Bandarban, Bangladesh

The general design is a thin paper shell, which may be from about 30 cm to a couple of metres across, with an opening at the bottom. The opening is usually about 10 to 30 cm wide (even for the largest shells), and is surrounded by a stiff collar that serves to suspend the flame source and to keep it away from the walls.

When lit, the flame heats the air inside the lantern, thus lowering its density and causing the lantern to rise into the air. The sky lantern is only airborne for as long as the flame stays alight, after which the lantern sinks back to the ground.

In China, Taiwan and Thailand, sky lanterns are traditionally made from oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame. The source of hot air may be a small candle or fuel cell composed of a waxy flammable material.

In Brazil and Mexico sky lanterns were traditionally made of several patches of thin translucent paper (locally called "silk paper"), in various bright colors, glued together to make a multicolored polyhedral shell. A design that was fairly common was two pyramids joined by the base (a bipyramid, such as the octahedron) sometimes with a cube or prism inserted in the middle. Only the smaller models had a full frame made of bamboo or thin wire; the slight overpressure of the hot air was sufficient to keep the larger ones inflated, and the frame was reduced to a wire loop around the bottom opening. The "candle" was usually a packet of paraffin or rosin tightly wrapped in cloth and bound with wire.


China is considered to have developed the first simple hot-air balloons.[3] According to the sinologist and historian of science Joseph Needham, the Chinese experimented with small hot air balloons for signaling from as early as the 3rd century BC. Their invention is, however, traditionally attributed to the sage and military strategist Zhuge Liang (181–234 AD),[4] whose reverent term of address was Kongming. He is said to have used a message written on a sky lantern to summon help on an occasion when he was surrounded by enemy troops. For this reason, they are still known in China as Kongming lanterns (孔明燈, , kǒngmíng dēng).

Another suggested origin is that the name actually comes from the lantern's resemblance to the hat Kongming is traditionally shown to be wearing.[citation needed]The Mongolian army studied Kongming lanterns from China and used them in the Battle of Legnica during the Mongol invasion of Poland.[5] This is the first time ballooning was known in the western world.

In the history of military ballooning, the lanterns were also used for military signals, In the history of ballooning, these became the first hot air balloons used in the West, in Europe, during the Mongol Invasion of Poland.[3] Sky lanterns could be a possible explanation for some UFO sightings through the years.[6][7]

Use in festivals[edit]


In ancient China, sky lanterns were strategically used in wars, in a similar way as kites were used in ancient Chinese warfare, such as military communication (transmitting secret messages), signaling, surveillance or spying, lighting the sky when laying siege on the city at night etc. However, later on, non-military applications were employed as they became popular with children at festivals. These lanterns were subsequently incorporated into festivals like the Chinese Mid-Autumn and Lantern Festivals.[citation needed]Although, nowadays they are used as objects within traditional festivals to emphasize the unity of family coming back together during the first full moon. This is represented by the lanterns all coming together in the sky upon being released and the roundness of the lanterns express the wholeness of family.[8] Before Sky Lanterns were used in a cultural manner in their society, they were used as a means of communication in the military. However, with the passing of time, it shifted to symbolizing a family reunion. Hence, the importance of Sky Lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Lantern Festival where they promote reconciliation, peace and forgiveness alongside the unity of family.[9]


One traditional account says that Diwali commemorates the return of Rama after 14 years of exile and victory over Ravana, just before the start of the winter season, as part of celebrations sky lanterns are released into the night sky with hopes towards a new year. Although fireworks have been lit for a longer period, Chinese lanterns gained popularity in Diwali in the 21st century. One of the most famous sky lantern festivals is celebrated at Udaipur, Rajasthan.[10] In Bengal and Northeast India, Buddhist people celebrate their Probarona Purnima which signifies the end of their three-month lent by releasing lighted sky lanterns (fanush), it is the second-largest festival of the Buddhist community. During Diwali festival (The festival of Light) eco-friendly sky lanterns are used for celebrations along with fireworks. It is a ritual of warding away bad energy and beginning a new (enlightened) path to righteousness.[11]


Hot-air kamifūsen in Kamihinokinai in 2015
Different colors of sky lantern and their meanings in Taiwan

An annual sky lantern festival known as the Kamihinokinai Paper Balloon Festival (上桧木内の紙風船上げ) is held in Semboku, Akita, on February 10 each year. Hundreds of very large lanterns, known as kamifūsen (紙風船), are flown for good luck in the coming year.[12][13] Lanterns are made of washi, traditional Japanese glassine paper. The festival has mythical origins, and was suspended during World War II. It was revived in 1974.[14]

Portugal and Brazil[edit]

In Brazil, sky lanterns (balão in Portuguese) were a traditional feature of the winter holidays (Festas Juninas) at the end of June. It is claimed[by whom?] that custom was brought to Brazil from Portugal by colonists in the 16th century, and is still strong in Portugal, especially in Porto. The June holidays tradition also includes firecrackers and fireworks, another Chinese invention; so it is conjectured that these elements may have been brought from China by Portuguese explorers around 1500. The design and customs of Brazilian sky lanterns are modified to suit their festivals.[citation needed]

Bartolomeu de Gusmão, using a large-scale version of these lanterns,[citation needed] was the first man to fly a hot air balloon on 8 August 1709, in the hall of the Casa da Índia in Lisbon, Portugal, long before the Montgolfier brothers.

Brazilian sky lanterns are usually made by small groups of children and adolescents; but adults sometimes joined the effort, especially for the larger and more elaborate balloons. The launching of a large lantern, which could be one or two metres across, would usually require the cooperation of several people, to hold the balloon fully stretched until it was fully inflated. Lanterns with 20 metres or more and loaded with firecrackers and large flags are not uncommon.

Since 1998 launching lanterns has been an environmental crime in Brazil, punishable by up to 3 years in jail.[15]


Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival

Pingxi District in New Taipei City of Taiwan holds an annual Sky Lantern Festival during which sky lanterns are released into the night sky with people's wishes written on them, to send the wishes and messages to God. The Sky Lantern Festival has traditionally been held on the 15th day of Chinese New Year, the last day of its celebration. Due to very popular demands and extreme congestions, the event is now spread over two days -- on the 15th day of Chinese New Year and a week before that day. In 2024, the dates were February 17 and February 24. Sky lanterns are released in organized waves, sending over 1,000 of them into the heavens on each night of the event.[16]


Release of a sky lantern during Yi Peng near Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Lanna people of northern Thailand use "floating lanterns" (โคมลอย, khom loi, [kʰōːm lɔ̄ːj]) year round, for celebrations and other special occasions. One very important festival in which sky lanterns are used is the Yi Peng festival, which is held on a full moon of the 2nd month (ยี่เป็ง, Yi Peng, [jîː pēŋ]) of the Lanna calendar (which coincides with Loi Krathong, the traditional festival on the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar). During the Yi Peng festival, a multitude of lanterns are launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the sky. The most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations can be seen in Chiang Mai,[17] the ancient capital of the former Lanna kingdom. The festival is meant as a time to obtain Buddhist merit (ทำบุญ, tham bun). In recent times, floating lanterns have become so popular with all Thai people that they have become integrated into the festival in the rest of the country.[citation needed]

In addition, people will also decorate their houses, gardens and temples with intricately shaped paper lanterns (โคมไฟ, khom fai) of various forms. It is considered good luck to release a sky lantern, and many Thai people believe they are symbolic of problems and worries floating away.[citation needed]


Sky lantern litter at Scottish Natural Heritage's Muir of Dinnet national nature reserve
Released sky lanterns in Vietnam before being completely banned throughout the country in 2009 due to safety concerns

A sky lantern may land when the flame is still alight, making it a fire hazard.[18] In typical designs, as long as the lantern stays upright the paper will not get hot enough to ignite, but if the balloon is tilted (say, by the wind or by hitting some object), it may catch fire while still in the air. All the paper will usually burn in a few seconds, but the flame source may remain lit until it hits the ground. After the balloon lands, the leftover thin wire frame will rust away very slowly, remaining a hazard to animals that may swallow it.[19] Sky lanterns have also been alleged to pose a danger to aircraft.[20] In 2009 British company Sky Orbs Chinese Lanterns developed lanterns using bio-degradable fireproof wool.[21][22]

Early in 2009, a lantern set fire to a house in Siegen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, resulting in the death of a ten-year-old boy.[1] In July the same year, a lantern set fire to two houses in the German town of Dieburg, near Darmstadt.[1]

On 1 July 2013 the 'largest fire ever' in the West Midlands of England, involving 100,000 tonnes of recycling material and causing an estimated £6 million worth of damage, was started by a sky lantern which landed at a plastics recycling plant in Smethwick. Images of the lantern starting the fire were captured on closed-circuit television.[23][24] In response to the fire, Poundland, a national retail chain whose headquarters are in nearby Willenhall, decided to stop selling sky lanterns and recalled their entire stock on 6 July 2013.[25]

In 2014 (as well as many other years) dozens of flights from Chiang Mai airport in Thailand had to be diverted or canceled when thousands of sky lanterns were released into the air.[26]

In 2018 a pavilion at Riocentro Convention Center, near downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, fully burned after a sky balloon landed on its roof.[27]

In the early hours of 1 January 2020, more than 30 animals, primarily apes and monkeys, were killed at Krefeld Zoo in Germany in a fire believed to have been caused by sky lanterns used in New Year's celebrations.[2][28] Many of the species involved are endangered in the wild.

Legal status[edit]

There has been growing concern by some about the potential danger to cause crop or building fires and even harm animals that may eat their remains. Some places have banned them for these reasons.[29]

The city of Sanya in China banned sky lanterns as hazardous towards aircraft and airspace navigation.[30]

In 1936 sky lanterns were made illegal in the Gau Thuringia, Germany, based on the Landespolizeiverordnung über Papierballons mit Brennstoffantrieb vom 30. November 1936 (State police regulation on fuel powered paper balloons of 30 November 1936). The regulation prohibited the manufacturing, distribution and launch of paper balloons powered by fuel or candles. Violations were punishable by a fine of up to 150 ℛ︁ℳ︁ or imprisonment of up to two weeks.[31]

Since 2009 it has been illegal to launch a sky lantern in most parts of Germany, with fines of up to 5000 euros being possible; in some German states, local authorities may give special permission on application.[32] In Austria, it is illegal to produce, sell, import, or distribute them.[33] In Argentina, Chile, and Colombia it is illegal to launch lanterns, as well as in Spain and Vietnam. In Brazil launching lanterns is an environmental crime, punishable by up to three years in jail since 1998.[20]

Retail sale (but not possession and use) of sky lanterns that "rely on an open flame to heat the air inside the lantern" was banned in Australia on 1 February 2011.[34]

Sky lanterns have also been banned since 20 June 2013 in Kittitas County, Washington, in the United States, because of fire concerns.[35] In 2015, Washington state later banned their use statewide, with the adoption of the 2015 International Fire Code.[36][37]

In Louisiana, the state fire marshal issued a ban on the distribution, sale, and use of sky lanterns in the state in 2013.[38]

Ruth George, then Labour MP for High Peak, introduced a Ten Minute Rule bill calling for the banning of sky lanterns in the UK's House of Commons on 27 March 2019. The bill passed its first reading.[39] However the Bill failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the session. (This means the Bill will make no further progress.) [40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Wedding party ends in two-house fire and huge bill". The Local. 12 July 2009. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b Associated Press, "Fire kills more than 30 animals at zoo in western Germany", CBC News, 2020-01-01.
  3. ^ a b Michael Burgan (2009). Empire of the Mongols. Facts on File. p. 104. ISBN 9781438103181.
  4. ^ Yinke Deng (2005). 中国古代发明 (Ancient Chinese Inventions). 五洲传播出版社. ISBN 7508508378.
  5. ^ Joseph Needham (1965). Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 4, Physics and Physical Technology, Part 2, Mechanical Engineering; rpr. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd.
  6. ^ Speigel, Lee (4 April 2011). "Chicago UFO Mystery Solved: They Were Sky Lanterns in Honor of Child Abuse Victims". AOL News. Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  7. ^ Scribbens, Nicola (11 June 2009). "Readers say Burnham-On-Sea UFO was probably a Chinese lantern". Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  8. ^ Tikkanen, Amy. "Lantern Festival". Britannica. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  9. ^ Travel China Guide. "Lantern Festival". Travel China Guide. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  10. ^ "Udaipur Lantern Festival 2021 – the Unique Diwali of Udaipur".
  11. ^ "Diwali | Definition & Facts | Britannica".
  12. ^ "A Festival of Floating Lights". All About Japan. 2017. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  13. ^ "The fantastical "Paper Balloon Festival of Kamihinokinai"". Japan Monthly Web Magazine. Japan National Tourism Organization. November 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  14. ^ "Paper Balloon Festival of Kamihinokinai". Semboku City. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  15. ^ "Fabricar, vender ou soltar balões que possam provocar incêndio é crime — Especial Cidadania – Jornal do Senado". (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  16. ^ "Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival – A Comprehensive Guide". Gourmet Flyer. 24 February 2024. Retrieved 18 March 2024.
  17. ^ "Lantern Festival of the Yee Peng Month". Welcome to Chiangmai and Chiangrai magazine. 3 December 2012. Archived from the original on 28 February 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  18. ^ Gancia, Barbara (6 August 2004). "Inconseqüência sazonal vitima mais um" (in Portuguese). Folha de São Paulo. Retrieved 2 February 2013. Firefighters have been striving for five days to put out a criminal fire in the Guarulhos region. This time it was a tire recycling company; but it could have happened to my home, or to yours, dear reader.
  19. ^ Hickman, Leo (31 July 2009). "What's the environmental impact of a sky lantern?". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  20. ^ a b "Balão cai no aeroporto de Cumbica; Infraero faz campanha de prevenção" (in Portuguese). Folha de São Paulo. 14 May 2008. Retrieved 24 February 2013. Only last year the state-owned company recorded at the Guarulhos [=Cumbica] airport 104 incident. In 2008 [...] there were already 17 incidents.
  21. ^ "Sky's The Limit For Eco Friendly Chinese Lanterns". Manchester Evening News. 15 June 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  22. ^ "Sky Orbs wins £100k Russian order". Manchester Evening News. 28 September 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  23. ^ "Smethwick blaze CCTV released", ITV News, 2013-07-01.
  24. ^ "Smethwick fire: Chinese lantern 'caused largest blaze'", BBC News, 2013-07-01.
  25. ^ "Poundland Stops Selling Chinese Lanterns After Massive Fire In Smethwick". Huffington Post. 2013-07-06. Retrieved 2013-07-06.
  26. ^ Newton, Paula (12 November 2014). "Thailand lights up the night sky with lantern festival". CNN. Retrieved 21 April 2024.
  27. ^ Dom Phillips, "World's most prestigious maths medal is stolen minutes after professor wins it", The Guardian, 2018-08-01.
  28. ^ "Krefeld zoo fire: German police suspect three women", BBC News, 2020-01-02.
  29. ^ "Chinese lanterns pose danger to livestock, NFU says". BBC News. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  30. ^ Romana, Chito (27 March 2009). "Why Did China Ban Traditional Flying Lanterns? – World View". ABC News. Archived from the original on 30 March 2009. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  31. ^ Gesetzsammlung für Thüringen 1936, Siebzehnter Jahrgang, Nr. 1 bis 28 (in German). Weimar: Thüringisches Staatsministerium. 1936. p. 109.
  32. ^ "Himmelslaternen – gefährlich und verboten". (in German). 2 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  33. ^ "BUNDESGESETZBLATT FÜR DIE REPUBLIK ÖSTERREICH" (PDF) (in German). 9 December 2009. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  34. ^ "Sky lanterns". Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. 2012. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  35. ^ "Fire danger prompts ban of sky lanterns". 20 June 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  36. ^ Abbott, Davis (6 May 2019). "Regulating Sky Lanterns". Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  37. ^ Leader news staff (29 April 2020). "East Jefferson Fire-Rescue reminds public sky lanterns are dangerous, illegal". Port Townsend Leader. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  38. ^ "Ask the Advocate: Dilapidated homes and sky lanterns".
  39. ^ Cook, Allen (27 March 2019). "Move to ban sky lanterns after devastating fires". BBC News.
  40. ^ "Sky Lanterns (Prohibition) Bill 2017–19". Parliament. 2019.

External links[edit]