Lantern Fest: A Can't Miss, Magical Evening

Looking to have a real-life Tangled moment? Perhaps something reminiscent of the romantic gondola ride shared by Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder in the new-age Disney classic “Tangled,” where glowing lanterns saturate the sky in a beautiful, breath-taking spectacle of light. Look no further than Lantern Fest, “an opportunity for thousands of revelers to join together as a community and create an unforgettable spectacle of light.” Her Campus staff writers Britt Boyle and Steph Harris had the incredible opportunity of attending Lantern Fest 2016; here’s their inside scoop!

Britt’s Take:

Lantern Fest is one of the most unique and deeply satisfying events that I have ever attended. From the venue, to the musical entertainment, to the spectacle itself, Lantern Fest provided a warm, inviting and family-friendly experience that even I -- an energetic and critical college student -- thoroughly enjoyed.

After arriving in Clio, MI at the Speedway with my co-writer and friend Steph Harris, it was apparent that we were no longer in our element. No elevated surfaces, no stressed students, no athletes putting around on mopeds -- this was no Ann Arbor. And oddly, the effect was blissful. Families toting baby carriers and strollers, bundles of blankets and picnic baskets were making a beeline to the speedway entrance, and the atmosphere was genial to say the least. Once we made our way into the speedway, the effect was only enhanced: on a small stage positioned in the center of the speedway stood a young vocalist, performing a cappella renditions of familiar pop-anthems. Children spun and twirled at the foot of the stage, clearly entranced by the crooning of the teen beauty. Families camped out around an array of campfires dispersed throughout the green in the center of the speedway, and food trucks dotted the opposite edge of the arena.

Steph and I had clearly arrived a little late to the party (had to fit in game day before, come on), but there was still plenty of time before sunset. We opted to sit along the pavement itself (instead of in the still-muddy green at the center of the track) and set up shop, spreading our blankets and unpacking our Lantern Fest “kit.”

Inside the kit we found chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers and a skewer to make our s’mores for before the lighting of the lanterns. As per the recommendation of staff, we cozied up with other festival-goers at their campfire and twirled our marshmallows over the fire. Adorably, we had an audience of 7- and 8-year-olds who were clearly confused that “adults” can still eat s’mores, too.

After enjoying our treats, we spent the remainder of the time (before it was dark enough to light lanterns) enjoying the Taylor Swift and Katy Perry covers coming from center stage.

Finally, dusk was upon us, and the most exciting part of the night was about to begin. Once we aired out our lanterns -- which were surprisingly large! -- we found one of the hundreds of tiki-torches dispersed throughout the stadium and lit the wooden pieces at the base of our lanterns.

All at once, under the guidance of the announcer on stage, we let our lanterns go.

Lantern Fest describes the effect rather beautifully. Their website reads: “Historically lanterns were used to symbolize good fortune, request favorable weather, or celebrate the life of a loved one. At Lantern Fest, you could be with us to turn over a new leaf, or just to capture some likes on Instagram. Families and friends can dance to music, roast marshmallows, and munch on snacks provided by local vendors, all before watching the lanterns float away in an unforgettable release.”

While I certainly count myself among the people who attend to benefit their Instagram likes, I couldn’t help but be touched by this beautiful showing of humanity. In seeing people from all walks of life -- all sorts of families and parents and singles and grandparents, each with their own complicated and triumphant story to tell -- gathered together in such a united display of resilience… well, it was touching. It reminded me that we are all united in struggle, and yet, we are all united in our perseverance.

So if you’re considering attending a Lantern Fest near you, please do. You might become an Instagram sensation, but more importantly, you might engage with the humanity of us all. And that -- in my humble opinion -- it critical in these trying times.

Be sure to bring the following in order to get the most out of your Lantern Fest experience:

  • A blanket or lawn chairs for sitting

  • Coffee (you’ll be out until after dusk!)

  • A picnic basket/bag (for snacks and s’more supplies)

  • A sweater or sweatshirt

  • Someone to enjoy the experience with

Steph’s Take:

Every shiny new freshman who has set foot on any university’s campus has the same shared goal: to somehow feel normal in this unfamiliar place. I definitely felt this way last year, as someone who packed up my family’s SUV and drove four hours from a small Chicago suburb to Ann Arbor – a hectic, bustling, vivacious mini-city in which I was supposed to find my place and my people as quickly and seamlessly as possible. All I wanted to do was to mimic everybody else in order to really feel like I fit in on campus – and I have to say, I had the most amazing role models and the most unforgettable freshman year. However, returning back to campus this fall as a sophomore, I had some more unconventional objectives in mind.

Now that I had felt truly acclimated at the University of Michigan, I wanted to put my own spin on the typical college experience. I enrolled in uncommon classes that I had never heard of, decided to commit to spending the second half of my junior year on a giant boat travelling the world (yes, really), and took on more leadership opportunities than was probably wise. My freshmen year was a complete and utter blur of chaos and brilliant feverishness, but I wanted to live this second year more out of intent, rather than pure survival. Maybe this was born out of the ever-growing realization that I only have a little over two more years in this place that has become my second home, or maybe I just felt as though I was fitting in a little too much. I just wanted this year to be something brand new.

So when I was given the opportunity to spend my Saturday night at a speedway in Clio, Michigan at a Lantern Fest on a beautiful fall evening, I said heck yeah. I traded strappy heels for sneakers and pounding club music for John Mayer acoustic covers. I roasted a marshmallow (or three), and witnessed hundreds of people release burning paper lanterns, all feeling different but somehow exactly the same. I’ve had a lot of memorable nights in Ann Arbor, but this was different.

Maybe it was seeing young children write each of their own wishes on the back of their lanterns before releasing them into the night, maybe it was being able to talk to my friend Britt about nerdy things that only she would understand, maybe it was sitting on cool grass instead of a stiff desk. Maybe it was being a part of a broad, diverse crowd of strangers who were all just trying to see the whole sky light up at once. Maybe it was being able to just breathe, being able to escape the remarkable intensity and fervor that is Ann Arbor and to simply enjoy being nineteen years old in September. Whatever it was, I think that everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from or what your “normal” is, should spend a night far from home and from responsibilities, and take the time to focus on something that may not be all that important in the grand scheme of things, but that is simply beautiful for the sake of being beautiful.

My night at the Lantern Festival was something that I’ll never forget – not because it changed my life or that it made some grand impact on me, but because I took the time to witness something so refreshingly serene and to yank myself out of my own universe, if only for a little while.

Lantern Fest hosts events all over the country. For the festival nearest to you, check out


Images courtesy of: Britt Boyle & Steph Harris.