“I hope that one falls down here!”
My sister leaned as far out over the railing as she possibly could without plummeting five stories to the parking lot below. Like all of us—eleven American kids of varying ages clustered on the top level of Maya Mall—she had her eyes fixed on a single orange-yellow light floating steadily downward in our direction.
“Its life is sniffling away,” commented one of our friends dramatically. “Sniffle, sniffle…”
The light sputtered, flared up valiantly, and winked out. Without the light from its candle, the lantern blended in perfectly with the black night sky.
“It’s coming, it’s coming!” we all shouted in excitement, running away from the railing to give the lantern room to fall. It was about thirty feet above our heads, sinking steadily. Then, just as it came almost within reach, a gust of wind knocked it away. It spiraled out of sight below the railing to a chorus of frustrated exclamations from us. We had only a few seconds to be disappointed, though, since the next lantern was rapidly approaching.
It was Loi Krathong—a Thai holiday in which thousands of krathongs (lanterns) are released into the air or onto rivers and canals all over the country. There are so many lanterns floating through the sky that many airports are temporarily shut down. Another interesting note is that the inspiration for the “floating lights” in Disney’s Tangled came from Loi Krathong.
In 2018, the year we stood atop Maya Mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the lantern festival coincided with Thanksgiving. The day began with emergency trips to the grocery store for forgotten vital ingredients, as well as much swapping of toaster ovens and other cooking utensils between our three families. At the last minute, my mom discovered that the sweet potatoes she was planning to use in a casserole weren’t the right sweet potatoes after all. In order to find the correct potatoes, we had a long and confusing conversation in Thai with a frazzled employee in the produce department. There wasn’t a sufficient number of sweet potatoes in stock, so we ended up combining them with the other potatoes and creating a disturbingly green casserole (it was supposed to be a nice healthy orange color). Although my mom remarked ruefully that it looked like something related to the Hulk, it still tasted just as good.
As lunchtime neared, we scrambled to gather our food contributions into the trunk of the car. The green casserole was done, the fruit was chopped (after much flinging of peels and juice and a few semi-fatal finger injuries), and the two roasted chickens (the best we could do in a land without turkeys) were secured in their tin foil. But the rolls refused to finish cooking in our less-than-efficient toaster oven. Finally, my mom gave up and announced that we could either appreciate the rolls we had and ignore the odd texture…or we could go without.
We ate them without complaint.
Our friends brought apple pies that formed the crowning success of our first Thanksgiving meal in Thailand. It had taken quite a bit of time and three toaster ovens to finish them all, but the effort was worth it a million times over.
Afterward, we drove to Maya Mall, where we spiraled up the parking garage ramp and found ourselves a good lookout just under the full moon.
Waiting for the lights…
We never did catch a lantern that night, although we watched dozens of them rise above the city buildings in every direction. My dad wielded a video camera and interviewed us on anything and everything that came to his mind. Silas, the littlest of the group, watched the lanterns while thoughtfully sucking on the railing. We played tag and counted cars coming and going from the mall parking garage below, until eventually we were tired (and hyper) enough to burst into a spirited rendition of the Tangled song “I See the Light.” The half-dozen mall security guards (if they understood English) must have been utterly baffled as they watched us run in circles, singing “and at last I see the light / and it’s like the fog has lifted!” I could practically hear their thoughts: those crazy foreigners…
Photo Credit: Chiang Mai Traveller, YNoei, October 1, 2017, https://www.chiangmaitraveller.com/loy-krathong-yee-peng-lantern-festivals-2017/.