Illuminasia: A Night of Magic at Calgary Zoo

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Each year, when Mid-Autumn Festival comes around, my mom would ask how I plan to celebrate. It is one of the important holidays in Taiwan so it is sort of a big deal. Back home, people would celebrate the fullest and brightest moon of the year by shining lanterns, sampling mooncakes, eating pomelo fruits and having outdoor barbecue. But in Calgary, we don’t really feel the festive atmosphere since there isn’t a big Chinese population here. I would buy mooncakes from a Chinese supermarket, but that’s about it. This year, we found a special way to enjoy this festival – by attending Illuminasia at Calgary Zoo!

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

2016 Illuminasia Lantern & Garden Festival

Days may be getting shorter but here in Calgary, we know how to lighten up and celebrate with Illuminasia Lantern & Garden Festival! From September 8 to October 16, Calgary Zoo is illuminated with beautiful lanterns highlighting the four seasons, including the four noble plants of the Chinese culture (orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum and plum), as well as culturally symbolic animals. As the sun goes down, the lanterns glow and glitter in the dark. The entire zoo turns into an enchanted wonderland of brilliant colours and imagery!

Pro Tip: It gets really crowded on the weekend. Plan to come on a Thursday to avoid the crowd.

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Production of these authentic Chinese lanterns

Creating these decorative lanterns is not an easy task. It is a two-country effort, with 55 artisans in China taking over 40 days to design and produce 260 lanterns that are being showcased this year! To set them up, 14 artisans have travelled from Zigong, China to Calgary to help with the big unveiling. They are a visual treat that takes a lot of hard work!

[bctt tweet=”Come experience the magic of the colourful lanterns @calgaryzoo! #illuminasiayyc #yyc” username=”fortwoplz”]

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Entertainment & Activities

There is so much to see at Illuminasia so I highly recommend arriving early. Catch the 7:30 pm (kids-friendly) or 8:30 pm (for adults) shows at the main stage. The Journey of the Monkey Princess (free, 45 mins) will take you back to ancient China and see how the Monkey Princess combat ninja warriors. Be prepared – lots of actions are involved, including ninja battles, martial arts, dancing and acrobatics!

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Several paid activities are worth considering if you’d like to get a fuller cultural experience. Four programs ($10~$20) are run each night: Chinese floral arrangement, Japanese woodblock print, Vietnamese lotus bloom, and Korean maedeup knotwork, each of which will give you a deeper understanding of that culture’s art form.

Japanese woodblock print ($15, 25 mins) particularly sparked our interest. My friend and I managed to squeeze in some time to learn how to print our own woodblock and mount it onto a Japanese paper! The whole experience was fun and entertaining. We learned the proper way of woodblock printing and added our own creativity into it!


Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

Japanese woodblock print

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

We added some creativity in our design and left some space for Chinese calligraphy

Calgary Zoo Illuminasia, a lantern and garden festival

We asked the professional artist to write our Chinese name onto our woodprint art

Are you a photographer, Chinese culture enthusiasts or animal lover? Then, this is an event you can’t afford to miss. Come wander through the zoo and experience the magic of the colourful lanterns! The event lasts till October 16 and is only open to the public from Thursday to Sunday, 7 pm to 10 pm!

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Are you a photographer, Chinese culture enthusiasts or animal lover? Then, this is an event you can't afford to miss. Come wander through the zoo and experience the magic of the colourful Chinese lanterns!


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26 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. Wow, that looks like so much fun! Would love to attend sometime!

    • You could easily spend 3-4 hours there, just taking photos! You should see if you current city is hosting a lantern festival 🙂 I know many major cities in North America do have something similar!

  2. Your amazing blog post and beautiful photos makes me want to visit Illuminasia at Calgary Zoo!

  3. Great images. It looks like you had so much fun. I love all the lanterns and l would have loved to do the Chinese art. You two did a good job :-).

  4. I decided not to go to zoos anymore because I don’t think it is beneficial to the animals (or humans for a matter of fact) but this looks stunning. I wish they would just have these animal laterns all year long instead of real animals – they are absolutely stunning. It is amazing to read what goes into them, that they are not something like we have come to know as ‘made in China’ but a true art form. And it shows!

  5. Thanks for reminding about Illuminasia. I have to visit there. When I visited the zoo, they were preparing about Illuminasia.

  6. I really like that the zoo has branched out into other types of entertainment!

  7. That looks so cool and colorful!
    Wish there was something similar on my side of the pond.

  8. Very cool! We had a similar exhibit come to Dallas a few years ago and it was so colorful!

  9. I love all the lights and colors. I thought the spring moon was the biggest and brightest in the Northern Hemisphere corresponding to the lunar orbit and the tilt of the Earth but enough science stuff. I love lantern festivals and lunar festivals. The idea of eating moon cakes under a full moon is just out of this world. Lunacy I tell ya.

  10. Ahh I’m so happy you found a way to celebrate Mid-Autumn festival in Canada 🙂 Are they going to have Illuminasia every year? I know the feeling of living abroad and being alone in celebrating your country’s holidays… when I was living in the UK I always got especially sad around Thanksgiving because obviously nobody celebrated it over there, and I didn’t know any other Americans to celebrate with. Anyway, Illuminasia looks so fun, and it’s really cool that you got to do woodblock printing too!

  11. Illuminasia would totally be right up my alley. I love all the brilliant colors first of all. But I would also love the shows (your photos remind me of Cirque shows which I love!) and I would like to participate in the activities like the Japanese woodblock print! Incredible how much works goes into making the lanterns!

  12. How beautiful!! This reminds me of the Chinese Lantern Festival I experienced in Columbus last year. It was freezing outside, so we hurried through it more than I would have liked. There was an acrobat show and a mask show, but no hands-on activities like you mention. Still, the lanterns and lights are the main draw and this looks spectacular! Glad you found this so relatively nearby.

  13. When I first read this title, I thought, ‘oh brother, another post claiming to be MAGICAL’ — then as I scrolled down, I saw just how magical it truly was! I had no idea that Mid-Autumn Festival was so important to people in Taiwan! I couldn’t get enough of the photos of the lanterns, and all those colors! PS- you are so cute up close!!! Your smile is absolutely adorbs & am obsessed with that scarf.

  14. I don’t go to zoos but I love the idea of Illuminasia! The lanterns and lights are absolutely beautiful and I’d love to see something like this outside of a zoo. I also love the woodblocks you got to create – so pretty!

  15. How beautiful, Cat! I find the lanterns really mesmerizing — the bright colors and lights against the night sky. I think my favorite image up there is the moose with the autumn tree. The whole Illuminasia event looks like fun — with enough different activities that everyone could find something they wanted to do. I would really enjoy the woodblock printing.

  16. What a cool event and a great way to expose Asian art to people. I would have wanted to do all the classes! Zoo these days are so much more than what they used to be and offer a lot of original activities that you would never find at a zoo 10 years ago!

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