Easy ways to do sky lanterns

Written by catherine ketley
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Easy ways to do sky lanterns
A quieter alternative to fireworks. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

A flight of sky lanterns provides a dramatic climax to a party or celebration. As the magical lights dance in the night sky, few people realise that these fire-powered balloons were originally used as military war signals in third-century China. Known by the Chinese as Khoom Fay, sky lanterns are now launched as symbols of good luck, particularly at Chinese New Year festivals. The lanterns are said to carry away your troubles as they rise higher and higher. With a few simple precautions, it is easy to organise your own sky lantern display.

Safety first

Most lantern displays are well managed and safe because the organisers follow some basic common-sense rules. The venue should be a wide, open space away from trees, overhead wires and high buildings. Wayward lanterns can spark a forest fire, so damp conditions following rain or a snowfall are best. Choose a calm, windless day and consider the flight path; a flight over water is safe and the reflections can create a dramatic double-light effect.

Buy and fly

Ready-made lanterns are relatively cheap and well constructed. Buy in bulk for large celebrations where you want a grand spectacle. Create a trail of light by releasing them at regular short intervals, so that the sky is punctuated with a rising stream of golden orbs. To be effective, this method has to be choreographed and well organised, with enough assistants to light the lanterns in quick succession.

Flying messages

Although you can buy lanterns with pre-printed messages on the side, it's much more fun to get your guests to decorate their own. Let them unwrap the lantern, lie it flat on the ground and use a marker pen with quick-drying ink to write their individual message. Then they can watch as their good luck wishes for the newly-weds, birthday greetings for friends or memorials for loved ones float magically up into the sky.


With a little practice, you can make your own sky lantern. There are many ideas online, most of which use tissue paper coated with fire-retardant spray for the balloon, lightweight wire for the base frame and balsa wood or drinking straws for the candle support. Experiment with colours and shapes; tubular, envelope or mitten designs are popular and fly well. Decorate and personalise your lantern so that it is unique to your celebration.

Little wishes

You can even introduce the magic of hot-air flight to guests at your dinner party. Open a tin of Italian amaretti biscuits, unwrap your biscuit carefully and flatten the wrapper on your plate. Roll the paper into a tube, which will be about an inch in diameter. Balance it carefully on your plate and set fire to the top edge. Make a wish and if the lantern rises to the ceiling, your wish will come true.

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