The dirt road leading to the entrance gate of the Mae Jo University campus was bustling, lined with food vendors and bobbing rainbow coloured lanterns and filled with the smell of frying chicken. I could barely contain my excitement; I had planned to attend the Mae Jo lantern release since I first decided to come travelling. As the ceremony is not intended for tourists, finding out the date and specific location had been difficult, and now we were here I couldn’t wait for the lantern release that evening.
We had arrived early and managed to get a good spot, purchased our lanterns and settled down to wait. Anticipating a long day, we had decided to make an occasion of it with a home-style picnic and had picked up a fresh baked baguette, pate, cheese and bright juicy strawberries. The vast space began to fill as more and more people arrived, and we sat in the grass drinking in the celebratory atmosphere. The ceremony began, and people around us bowed to the ground and pressed their interlaced fingers to their foreheads as orange clad monks chanted and sang their prayers.
The sky began to darken, and as beautiful Lanna music drifted on the air, people all around us scrambled to their feet and began to light their lanterns. Like streetlights in winter, the light spread across the festival space, lanterns illuminating one by one like dominoes. We lifted our lantern to the flame, careful to keep the delicate paper from folding inwards like bird wings and setting alight, and I felt the tug in my fingers as it filled and ballooned with hot air. Holding the lantern aloft, I closed my eyes and poured my wishes into it before gently releasing it into the inky sky.
A happy cry spread from the crowd as a thousand other lanterns rose from upraised hands, gliding into the night and warming it with soft light. Gazing upwards at the beauty of the sky, filled with a constellation of twinkling lanterns, I felt a warm rush of joy at the sight of a thousand individual wishes, messages of hope, sent upwards into the night sky.