There really is nothing quite as spectacular as the 2022 Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square.
The event annually calls the historic park home, and it’s finally back after a three-year hiatus. The celebration of culture and light has always been eye-catching from the outside, but as soon as you enter the park, you really do realize just how majestic and beautiful the structure of lights are—and you have until Aug. 7 to enjoy them.
After a pandemic break, it seems that the experience used that time to brainstorm how to come back better than ever. Franklin Square has always been a picturesque destination with plenty of greenery, a carousel, mini golf and beer garden. Now, the destination is almost unrecognizable—though the signature fountain is a strong giveaway—and what unfolds as you walk through the opening arches is a feeling of peace, wonder and the inkling that you are somewhere magical, or at least far away.
With over 30 larger-than-life displays radiant in brilliant colors (most of which are from China), there is something to see everywhere you turn— including the return of the popular 200-foot-long dragon, which is longer than 3 school buses combined, and the giant Temple of Heaven, which weighs 5 tons.
Since May, the experience has been underway, and for over a month, 30 artists from China welded, lit, wrapped, and painted each of the lanterns by hand. Also returning for this year’s Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square is the walk-through panda bamboo forest and wisteria tunnel, the friendly giant whale that swims, mythological creatures, and interactive installations including a kaleidoscope selfie spot.
The festival this year seems upgraded in almost every sense of the word. It’s always been a shining star, but in 2022, it just feels different. It could be the absence of the event, or, the fact that it’s simply spectacular to experience firsthand.
While walking around you will see trees lit up brightly with butterflies while you dance on stars placed on the ground that change colors. You can hit a drum and watch as the structures change to every beat. You can glance up at a massively-lit crab as a stream of bubbles that turn to smoke parade all around you. And you can also walk down different corridors made up of fantastical floral structures that evolve in colors at almost every turn.
Each structure also lists what is being shown, and the significant meaning in Chinese culture. You’ll be able to learn what bamboo signifies, and why pandas are associated with it. You’ll see mythical creatures, some that ward off evil spirits, and others that are there as symbols of love. You’ll also be able to fully immerse yourself into the different designs, all of which are just as unique as they are symbolic.
Of course, the Franklin Square Fountain will also return with some new updates. According to the release, the show will feature a brand-new song,“Little Apple” by the Chopstick Brothers, which visitors can enjoy only during the evening Lantern Festival. Fountain jets dance magically with dramatic lighting and music as LED lights glisten, and Philadelphians will be able to catch it nightly at select times (6, 6:30, 7, 8, 8:30, 9:30 and 10 p.m.)
Stage shows will also take place at the Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square (head towards the massive dragon to find the stage to the right of it), at select times and will include Face Changing, Diablo Shaking, Foot Juggling, Folk Dance and Cube Arts.
Face Changing is a 300-year tradition of the Sichuanopera Opera where a performer changes masks quicker than the blink of an eye, while the Diablo Shaking involves a circus prop derived from the Chinese yo-yo, with hourglass-shaped cups and strings attached to two hand sticks. Cube Art, on the other hand, is a new type of acrobatic performance that combines cube and acrobatics with power, throwing, rotation, and other movements.
Walking around the magnificent venue will work up anyone’s appetite, and for that, patrons can enjoy an abundant amount of food and drink options. The Dragon Beer Garden (open nightly until 10 p.m.), is new for 2022, and the space offers a variety of delicious cocktails including the Green Tea, Peking Gin & Ginger, Pink Lady, Paloma, Bourbon Lemonade and several mocktails.
Food-wise, the vendor Sang Kee will offer Chinese selections from one of Chinatown’s premiere restaurants including spicy grilled chicken in a steam bun, Dan Dan noodles, vegetable fried rice, steamed meat dumplings, General Tao’s chicken, coconut shrimp, pineapple smoothies, lemongrass green tea and more. Oishii, another vendor, will offer assorted Asian options from an array of cuisines including seaweed salad, shrimp tempura, chicken satay, Korean meatballs, fried ice cream, mochi ice cream and more.
And of course, classic comfort food such as waffle fries, cheesesteaks and the famous Cake Shake will also be served at SquareBurger.
While at the Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square, visitors can still ride the carousel, play mini golf, and check out the Pagoda gift shop for keepsakes and more. There will also be a Lantern Scavenger Hunt during the day to win free tickets, yoga (daily at 11 a.m.) story time from the Free Library (Tuesdays in June at 10:30 a.m., Wednesdays in July and August at 10:30 a.m.) plus the Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Bench.
It’s truly a spectacular experience, and one worth seeing for yourself, as there is nothing quite like it in the City of Philadelphia.
The 2022 Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square will shine bright at 6th and Race Streets through Aug. 7, from 6-11 p.m. nightly. Tickets range for ages and dates ($12-$21). More information can be found online at historicphiladelphia.org/chineselanternfestival