Columbus, OH

Water Lantern Festival aspires to create a fairy tale experience for Columbus residents

The Lantern
A lantern launch from a previous Water Lantern Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Water Lantern Festival

Watching the Water Lantern Festival unfold is like stepping into a scene from Disney’s 2010 hit movie “Tangled,” Hayden Earl said.

Earl, the Water Lantern Festival’s community outreach specialist, said attendees decorate recyclable lanterns made of rice paper and wood. Eventually, the lanterns are set afloat, creating a twinkling expanse for all to see. The altogether enchanting event, which travels to numerous cities across the United States each year, will be held from 6-10 p.m. June 3 at Franklin Park.

A stronger emphasis on interpersonal interaction(s) drives the 2023 festival, Earl said. In addition to a scavenger hunt encouraging visitors to find “a person who has been to three countries” or “a person with the same name,” conversation starter cards are to be provided for the first time ever, he said.

“We’re more focused on the connection than we are the spectacle this year,” Earl said. “I think just getting out into the community and really being a part of the community is our biggest enticing factor.”

Guests can also browse a selection of Columbus-based food trucks and vendors, Earl said. LaCarne and Zaki Grill – known for Italian-style sandwiches and authentic Middle Eastern eats, respectively – are just two food trucks set to make an appearance.

Earl said one of the celebration’s most memorable facets is an open mic segment. Before lanterns are launched around sunset, participants are allowed to address the crowd and speak on their lanterns’ ascribed meanings, he said.

“We get to hear what everybody’s inspiration was,” Earl said. “People can get pretty emotional and share some pretty powerful stories.”

Nothing compares to seeing the lanterns drift together at last, Jonah Wasden, an event coordinator for the Water Lantern Festival, said. He said every drawing and paragraph, no matter how small, exudes a sense of vulnerability.

“There’s not really room for negativity at these events,” Wasden said. “You can make it as personal as you want it to be.”

In the future, Wasden said he hopes the Water Lantern Festival continues to spread positivity in a sustainable way. Finding new uses for lanterns once they are pulled from the water is integral to that goal, he said.

“We try and partner with local art installations as well so that we’re not throwing away the lanterns,” Wasden said. “They can use them for art projects.”

Earl said he looks forward to observing how different communities embrace the festival and make it their own.

“I want to keep seeing them,” Earl said. “Even if we’re just there for a day, it’s a pretty fun thing to get to see.”

Additional information about Columbus’ 2023 Water Lantern Festival, including ticket pricing, is available on the event’s website .

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