The 400-ft. dragon making his appearance at Lantern Light Festival

Spectacular Chinese lanterns are the draw of the new Lantern Light Festival coming to Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center, Nov. 30-Jan. 8, and produced by Pinnacle Production Group (Pinnacle).

“The festival is a six-week production featuring massive lanterns, inspiring performances and incredible cuisine,” said Sanjay Syal, president of Pinnacle. “Attendees will experience a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes and themes in the run–up to the Christmas period and beyond.”

Lantern Light Festival scene

The Chinese word for lantern means ‘a new-born baby boy.' Lighting lanterns is symbolic of illuminating the future and giving birth. People pray for smooth futures and express their best wishes for their families. It's thought women who want to be pregnant should walk under a hanging lantern and pray for a child.

“While some people have seen lanterns being released into the night sky, these lanterns stay firmly on the ground,” explained Syal. “This show was designed for Miami and costs $2 million to produce, with lantern themes including global architecture, animals and sea life, holiday traditions and mythical stories.”

The elaborate lanterns are custom-made in China, hand-crafted by Chinese artisans.
“The lanterns take two months to make and take a team of seven people,” said Syal. “They will come over in 15 shipping containers and then take 40 people here in the States to assemble.” LED lighting provides the glow.

The lanterns can reach up to 30 feet in height and 150 feet in length, creating a striking visual display. They come in a medley of colors and in a variety of structures and themes. Each lantern set is made up of three-dimensional stained glass and handmade from hundreds of pieces of silky cloth. “The lanterns take a lot of skill to make and are made by some of the world’s best lantern-makers,” said Syal.

“The lanterns are actually more than just a single 'lantern',” explained Syal. “They are actually 'scenes' and each scene can have multiple lanterns in it. Some are quite extravagant, like the dragon, which is 400 feet long.” Other scenes will include the White House, Eiffel Tower and ancient Chinese structures modernized for the United States.

Lantern Light Festival layout

The festival is laid out on 15 acres of space, and Syal expects there to be around 40 unique scenes. “It's a feast for the eyes,” said Syal. Two hundred thousand attendees are expected to visit the fairgrounds for the Lantern Light Festival and, according to Syal, “We have the right to extend the event until Jan. 29, by three weeks, if we are doing good.”

“We can't wait for this event,” said Sira Camilo, director for sales and business development for Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc. “We're counting the hours and the minutes; we're expecting a really big hit with the Lantern Light Festival. I think Syal's going to hit it really big with this show.”

Camilo said they had a terrific experience with Syal at the start of the summer with a dinosaur show. “The dinosaur show was quite successful and very well received,” she said.

Camilo expects the festival to bring $200,000 to the fair. “We're starting out with low projections because this is a first-time event. It will also provide an economic benefit to the community as a whole. We need more wholesome family-friendly events here and expect the Lantern Light Festival to be a new tradition.” Twenty fair employees will stay on-site during the festival's duration; the rest of the staff will be provided by Pinnacle.

“The Lantern Festival tradition is thousands of years old,” said Syal. It can be traced back to the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220) when Chinese Emperor Hanmingdi was an advocate of Buddhism. The Emperor heard that the monks lit lanterns in the temples to show respect to Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month. The emperor was so impressed he ordered that all temples, households and royal palaces light lanterns on that evening.

This Buddhist custom evolved into a yearly grand festival celebrated on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month. The festival traditionally ends the Chinese New Year period. The Lantern Festival also marks the first full moon night in the Chinese calendar, marking the return of spring and symbolizing the reunion of family.

Tickets will cost $19-$23. A VIP package, $59, will include parking, a train ride, a round of mini-golf, a chance to go into the 'mining area' to mine for emeralds and a t-shirt. A season pass will cost $60.

Lantern Light Festival entrance 

In Laddition to seeing the gigantic lanterns, the festival will have traditional Chinese activities including face painting, fireworks, Chinese acrobats, live music and authentic Chinese food.

Next stop for the Lantern Light Festival is Memphis, Tenn., at the Agricenter in the spring of 2017.

Pinnacle is Syal's second entertainment company. His first company, Blue Star, is the organization that bought out Vince Egan's company, VEE Corp., which owned and produced Sesame Street Live, among other live family shows. Syal led a group of investors on the buy-out and changed that company name to V-Star. They bought more shows but, eventually, Syal and V-Star parted ways. Syal still maintains a 25 percent stake in the company.

Interviewed for this story: Sanjay Syal, (651) 504-2000; Sira Camilo, (786) 315-5266