Firelight Lantern Festival
Picton’s lantern festival celebrates milestone anniversary
By Lin Parkin
Prince Edward County
In November 2022, The Department of Illumination celebrated their 10th anniversary of the Firelight Lantern Festival at Crystal Palace in Picton.
Festival co-founder Susanne Larne first approached Artistic Director Krista Dalby about starting a Lantern Festival in 2013. “We didn’t know each other, but she heard that before moving to the County, I produced community arts events with Clay & Paper Theatre,” says Dalby. “When I lived in Toronto, I was a part of the Kensington Market Winter Solstice Festival for a number of years, where I learned to make lanterns.”
While Larne grew up in Picton, she spent some time in Vancouver and was inspired by a lantern festival she’d seen there. Dalby says, “So when Susanne asked me, ‘Do you want to start a lantern festival with me?’ I immediately said yes!”
Its first year was an overwhelming success, and the festival continued to grow and expand over the years. Dalby explains, “The Firelight Lantern Festival is a means to bring the community together at a time of year when the days get shorter and the nights get longer, using light as a symbol to sustain us through the winter ahead.”
Despite the challenges presented in the last two years, the festival has maintained its resilience. “In the first year of the pandemic, we created an at-home festival with an online program, a lantern scavenger hunt in downtown Picton, and provided lantern kits for folks to make their lanterns at home, which we displayed in the window of Books & Company,” Dalby explains. “Last year, we were able to go ahead with an in-person festival, but it had to be all outdoors with timed ticketing, and we couldn’t have a parade or workshops. Despite it all, we really did make the magic happen!”
This year things are getting back to normal. The festival typically kicks off with a series of lantern-making workshops. “This is where the real community-building happens. We spend time together being creative while getting to know each other,” Dalby explains. “Many newcomers to the community find their way to our workshops, and it’s a great place to meet people.” Participants range from little kids to seniors, from absolute beginners to professional artists.
“The night of the festival is absolutely thrilling. We try to knock people’s socks off with joy and beauty, and wonder! We encourage folks to wear costumes and bring their sense of fun,” she says. “Ultimately, we want to foster a sense of togetherness while showing how much beauty we can create when we work together towards a common goal.”
As a milestone year, the Firelight Lantern Festival is expanding to two nights with live music, circus performers, extravagant costumes, and a parade of lights. Dalby hints, “In our studio, we’re building a new giant lantern puppet, plus there will be illuminated art installations and other surprises!”
“Over the last ten years of the Firelight Lantern Festival, there have been moments that have been some of the best times of my life, when I look around, and I think, this is it, this is what makes life worth living,” reflects Dalby. “Art, music, and human connection… this is what I’m here for, and this is my superpower, to be able to create the opportunity to share this with others.”
Facebook & Instagram: @deptofillumination