Lantern festival: how do we celebrate it in our kindergartens and what does it mean?
In mid-November, Vienna's sunsets contrast with the twinkling light of homemade lanterns and the autumnal streets are filled with children's voices. Entire families slowly march through the city, chanting the typical refrains of this time of year:
"I go with my lantern
and I light up everything as I go by
stars in the sky
are also lit up
My light is lit
how beautiful is my light
„Ich gehe mit meiner Laterne
und meine Laterne mit mir
Dort oben leuchten die Sternen
hier unter leuchten wir“
Wie schön das klingt
wenn jeder singt
In our schools there is a mixture of cultures and many people wonder where this tradition of walking around with candles on cold November nights comes from. Today we would like to explain the origin and meaning of a very important celebration in our kindergartens. Join us in this journey through history until our last celebration of the Lantern Festival with all its symbolism.
Presence of lantern festivities in different cultures and countries
First of all, it is important to clarify that this festival is not exclusive to Austria and that not everyone who has grown up in a Germanic country is familiar with the celebration. In fact, between the months of September and November there are many other festivals that involve lights: the lantern festival in Germany, the turnip night (Räbechilbi) in Switzerland, the lantern festival (loy krathong) in Thailand, the lantern day in Ahuachapán, the lantern festival (Yuánxiāojié) in China, etc...
They all share a common element: fire. However, the motive for countering the growing nights with artificial light differs in each legend:
Romans and Celts carved lanterns in grotesque shapes to ward off evil spirits.
In countries traditionally Christian, it is associated with St. Martin's Day and lanterns are handmade to commemorate the saint's burial.
In some Asian countries, it is considered to be of Buddhist origin. Celebrations have evolved to the point where elaborate glowing floats are used for spectacle.
In Thailand, the lantern bearers deposit the lanterns in a lake or river to be swept away by the current or throw them into the air to float away.
The Lantern Festival in La Rueda kindergartens
At La Rueda centres, we base our annual programme on the seasons of the year. We are not celebrating St. Martin's Day, what we celebrate together is the arrival of winter and the past autumn equinox. Their dates may not coincide, but in the groups we address the change of season with related activities and seasonal foods so that the children understand the symbolism behind a fragile paper lantern.
Solstices and equinoxes, why are they so important to us?
👉 A short aside about these events!
The four seasonal periods of our Earth are determined by the sun, which rotates around the globe "slowly but surely". This is why we receive more or less sunlight as the days go by and why at two times a year the sun is as far away or as close as possible:
Winter solstice in our hemisphere (December): the shortest day of the year.
Summer solstice (June): the longest day of the year.
At the equinoxes, day and night are of equal length. This means that we enjoy 12 hours of sunshine and 12 hours of night:
Spring equinox in our hemisphere (March): day and night are the same length.
Autumnal equinox in our hemisphere (September): day and night are the same length.
To these two concepts we add that the "autumn" season comprises September, October and November.
Preparation of the festival: symbolism of the lantern, the song and the bread.
Let's get down to business, what does each gesture mean on this day?
To begin with, the lanterns are handmade in the groups using natural or recycled materials. Generally cardboard, twigs, discarded tetrabriks... in this way, the value of making the most of resources without wasting anything is instilled, while effort and creativity are encouraged. The children are free to personalise their lantern or come up with ideas, so they usually end up showing a curious shape
The main song on this day is "Yo voy con mi farolito", which begins to be played in the groups up to a month before. Each child's light represents his or her own light, which is reflected in the verse "My light goes on, how beautiful is my light".
In addition, in our kindergruppen we sang "la luna de candela" with a little theatre of light and shadow. For dancing, we chose "si si kumbale":
The spiritual aspect is also important on this holiday: with our light we illuminate our own path, but also that of others. Fire symbolises hope and warmth, which we do not hesitate to share with our loved ones. Families and friends go for a walk, have a snack and sing together.
Before the celebration, we baked bread with the children. Sharing these portions with the family represents the importance of sharing and the austerity of winter. We don't eat extravagant sweets or elaborated recipes, but simple, seasonal food. The simplicity of sourdough and oranges reminds us of how harsh winters used to be - we are very lucky! As a counterpoint, Glühwein and Kinderpunch help to warm us up.
We celebrate outside because the connection with nature is vital. Feeling the cold and the calm of the night envolving us to understand the change that has taken place around. We are lucky to be close to the Augarten in Vienna, so our lantern party takes place among the trees.
Lantern Festival in Vienna: this is how we celebrated!
In 2022 we have celebrated our Laternenfeste in two turns: first the group La Rueda Herminengasse and a few days later the groups La Rueda Wasner and Kloster.
The children were amazed and they had tons of fun!
Check the video, available in English from 2:03 on: