Making Chinese Culture Shine

The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden has grown seemingly overnight into a wonderland of lanterns that represent themes from Chinese culture for its second Moonlight Forest Lantern Festival. 

The seed to create a lantern festival was planted years ago, when arboretum CEO Richard Schulhof traveled the country in search of a special way to honor the culture and traditions of China, as L.A. County has one of the largest Chinese populations in North America.

Though only in its second year, the festival has become a prominent window into the world of Chinese culture, and according the Schulhof, is one of the best in the nation.

“The festival allows us to discover the commonalities that unite us across the globe,” Schulhof says. “There are aspects of the human experience that are so universal. I think among the long list of those aspects is appreciation for art and appreciation for nature, and this festival celebrates both.”

Set with the backdrop of the gardens, lanterns light up the night and play off of the grounds’ features. A 160-foot dragon stands tall as its light bounces off the neighboring Baldwin Lake and forms breathtaking silhouettes of the surrounding trees. A towering fountain display of bright koi fish guides guests along a path that leads them past cavorting panda bears to a massive blue and green peacock, which serves as the festivals most iconic spot to take pictures.

The result is flawless, but the process is anything but easy and straightforward.

The staff at the arboretum are in constant contact with a design team in China’s Sichuan Province. The layout is reworked numerous times as ideas are exchanged and new exhibits are formulated. Once the design of the layout is established, the Sichuan team is flown out to the grounds roughly a month prior to the festival to begin staging the lanterns.

“It’s quite a process, but I think our audience here at the festival is extremely receptive and curious to experience this wonderful culture. It’s their interest that makes the work worth it,” Schulhof says.

To appease even more of guests’ interests, the festival also features various forms of entertainment with craft professionals from Sichuan Province.

Festival goers have the chance to interact with inner bottle painting artists, who create intricate panoramic scenes on the inside small bottles. Dancers and jugglers relay tradition through customary performances, and a conventional face changing dance originated by the Sichuan Opera lures guests into a world of rich culture. Translators are always nearby to give guests an opportunity to speak with the performers and learn more about China.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to interact with these folks who come here from China to share their traditions. Last year people really loved the interactive pieces of the festival, so we wanted to bring that back,” Schulhof says.

The festival is back by popular demand, but Schulhof wants attendees to know this year’s Moonlight Forest has only gotten bigger and better since last year.

“We’re here to serve the community so it’s a constant evaluation of what works, what programming our guests find rewarding and how the arboretum has to evolve to meet the needs of LA County and Southern California. But it’s going to be a wonderful experience and I hope people come ready to take it all in and really enjoy it.”

The Moonlight Forest Magical Lantern Art Festival

Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, 301 N. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia
5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, November 9, to Sunday, January 12.
Ticketed entry times are 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for children 3 to 17; $23 for students and seniors and $25 for adults on Wednesday and Thursday. Tickets are $23 for children 3 to 17; $25 for students and seniors and $28 for adults on Friday and Saturday.