Sky lantern

Sky lantern
Sky lantern
Yi peng sky lantern festival San Sai Thailand.jpg
Yi Peng (Loi Krathong) festival in Tudongkasatan Lanna (Lanna Meditation Retreat Centre) , Mae Jo Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaning sky lanterns
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaning Kongming lanterns
Thai name
Thai โคมลอย
RTGS khom loi

Sky lanterns, also known as Kongming Lantern are airborne paper lanterns traditionally found in some Asian cultures. They are constructed from oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame, and contain a small candle or fuel cell composed of a waxy flammable material. When lit, the flame heats the air inside the lantern, thus lowering its density causing the lantern to rise into the air. The sky lantern is only airborne for as long as the flame stays alight, after which the lantern sinks back to the ground.

Sky lanterns are also referred to as sky candles or fire balloons, however the latter term is also used to refer to balloon munitions used during World War II.

Lanterns have proved extremely unpopular with farmers in many countries due to the potential for causing crop fires and the chance of death of livestock on consuming the lantern remains upon landing.[1]



Release of a sky lantern during Yi Peng near Chiang Mai, Thailand
A modern Kongming Lantern

The Kongming Lantern (Chinese: 孔明燈) was the first hot air balloon, said to be invented by the Chinese sage and military strategist Zhuge Liang,[2] whose reverent term of address (i.e. Chinese style name) was Kongming. They were first deployed at the turn of the 3rd century as a type of signaling balloon or, as it's said, as a type of spy blimp in warfare. Alternatively the name may come from the lantern's resemblance to the hat Kongming is traditionally shown to be wearing.

According to the sinologist and historian of science Joseph Needham, the Chinese experimented with mini-hot air balloons from as early as the 3rd century BC, during the Warring States period, which suggests that the Sky Lantern may have been invented long before Kongming's era.

Usage in festivals

Chinese festivals

In ancient China, sky lanterns were strategically used in wars. However later on, non-military applications were employed as they became popular with children at carnivals. These lanterns were subsequently incorporated into festivals like the Chinese Mid-Autumn and Lantern Festivals. Pingxi District in New Taipei City of Taiwan holds an annual Lantern Festival in which sky lanterns are released.

Thai festivals

Lanna (northern Thai) people use sky lanterns all year round, for celebrations and other special occasions. One very important festival in which sky lanterns are used is the Lanna festival known as "Yi Peng" (Thai: ยี่เป็ง) which is held on a full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna calendar ("Yi" meaning "2nd" and "Peng" meaning "month" in the Lanna language). Due to a difference between the old Lanna calendar and the traditional central Thai calendar it coincides with Loi Krathong which is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. During the Yi Peng festival, a multitude of khom loi (Thai: โคมลอย, literally: "floating lanterns") are launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the sky. The most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations can be seen in Chiang Mai,[3] the ancient capital of the former Lanna kingdom. The festival is meant as a time for tham bun (Thai: ทำบุญ), to make merit. People usually make khom loi from a thin fabric, such as rice paper, to which a candle or fuel cell is attached. When the fuel cell is lit, the resulting hot air which is trapped inside the lantern creates enough lift for the khom loi to float up in to the sky. In addition, people will also decorate their houses, gardens and temples with khom fai (Thai: โคมไฟ): intricately shaped paper lanterns which take on different forms.
It is considered good luck to release a sky lantern, and many Thais believe they are symbolic of problems and worries floating away. In recent times, khom loi have become so popular with all Thai people that it has become an integrated in to the Loi Krathong festival in the rest of country.


As sky lanterns contain a flame, there is the danger that they can cause a fire when landing on flammable ground. They can achieve quite a height and launching them in strong winds is not recommended. After the balloon lands, the leftover thin wire frame may present a hazard to any animal tempted to swallow it.[4] Sanya in China has banned sky lanterns due to hazard to aircraft [5] It is illegal to launch a sky lantern in most parts of Germany, and in the remaining areas where use is technically legal, such as Herford, it is still necessary to obtain advance permission from local authorities. In Austria, it is illegal to produce, sell, or import them, or to distribute them in any other way.[6]

Ecologically friendly lanterns

There were concerns regarding the safety of the standard metal lanterns. National coverage[where?] regarding waste and potential harm to livestock was extensive, and farmers around the world have expressed concern over the possibility of livestock eating the lanterns and the wires causing serious injury or even death to the animal.[7] Additionally, environmentalists complain that although the lanterns are biodegradable the metal parts contribute to waste and delay degradation. In 2010, lanterns were developed that are 100% wire-free. Instead of metal, flame resistant wool is used which can be ingested without causing any harm. However these can still be fire hazards.[8]

See also


External links

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