Saturday, 21 April 2012

Kazakhstan – The first lantern festival

April 14-17

Hello everyone!

Spring is a time of blossoming flowers, rising temperatures and animals coming out of hibernation. In the case of Kazakhstan, the first has yet to happen, but the population has begun to enjoy the joys of wearing less than six layers of clothing. The Astana Lantern Festival was one of the first examples of this in 2012.

This was the second year that the festival has taken place. It is in the park along the River Ishim, a place that has, for the past five months, has been a desolate, silent snowscape. Now that the river has thawed, and the snow has melted, the park is now packed to the rafters at the weekend. On Sunday night, it played host to a festival of love.

The story goes (from one of the assistants at our school) that Valentine’s Day, our commercial celebration of love, is held at a time of year that is too cold for Kazakhs to appreciate. Having lived through -40’C, I can appreciate that. An alternative for the locals is to wait until mid-April, when it is warm enough to show affection to a loved one. The way they do that here is with lanterns.

We headed into the park in the early evening to stroll through the crowd, before purchasing a small, red piece of paper that is referred to as a lantern. For those of you who are unaware of how these work, you light a candle which is held below the paper.

The heat rises into the lantern, billowing and expanding it until it is ready to release.

We waited patiently until it was time for everybody to let their lantern go. Mine travelled…three metres. At least it didn’t get stuck in the trees, like many other lanterns. Slightly dangerous to release lots of lit candles into the air in close proximity to trees when there hasn’t been any rainfall for months.

Though ours ultimately bumped gently along the floor, many others soared and sailed through the serene sky. The night was illuminated by lights moving over the river and out towards the steppe. It was a stunning and unexpected sight.

This was the first weekend in a long time when we could relax and sit outside. We spent our Saturday evening sat outside the pyramid having a wonderful picnic. Astana has a surprising amount of greenery and nice places if you look hard enough, and we’re looking forward to spending as much time as possible outside and finding out much more about our city.

Love you all


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