History of Paper Lanterns - Who Invented Paper Lantern?

Japanese Lanterns

Paper lanterns are special kind of lanterns that originate from China and Japan. They are made from paper or silk, with frame from bamboo or wood and a lit candle inside as a source of light. Modern paper lanterns have battery-operated lamps. Traditional paper lanterns were made in the image of myths, things from nature and or in the spirit of local culture. Modern ones have many more different shapes: from traditional dragons to pop icons. They symbolize joy, celebration, good fortune and longevity, and they have role as protectors from evil.

Earliest data show that creating of paper lantern started in China somewhere in 230 BC. Myth says that Emperor Ming, after a dream he had, sent a scholar to India to get Hindu scriptures. When the scholar got back, emperor ordered building of a great temple for scriptures and ordered in it many of paper lanterns to symbolize Buddha’s power. Today paper lanterns are associated with festivals and (for the west) one of the characteristic symbols of the east. During the Lantern Festival in China, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the first moth of the lunar year, people bring many paper lanterns in order to honor the first full moon of the year. Children go with paper lanterns to temples and solve riddles on the lamps. This is the last ritual in the celebrating of Chinese New Year.

Chinese Paper Lanterns

One more festival is known for its use of paper lanterns and that is Mid-Autumn Festival that celebrates ending of the harvest. It is celebrated in China and Vietnam. There, paper lanterns symbolize sun, light and warmth, and prayer to the Sun to come back after the winter. East is not the only place that uses paper lanterns in its rituals and celebrations. During Christmas it is tradition some Hispanic communities to place paper bags with lit candle in it in long rows. That kind of paper lantern is called “farolito” or "luminaria”. They are placed with intention to lead spirit of a Christ child to the home of one who placed those lanterns. In the time of Festa della Rificolona, festival that is held in Florence, Italy on the 7th September in a place of the great fall market, children carry paper lanterns while other children try to shoot lanterns with pea-shooters. Some places, like restaurants and stores, hang paper lanterns for atmosphere, as decoration or to attract customers.

Although an old tradition, paper lanterns resisted time and are still here because they carry powerful symbolism.