Asian Lantern Festival at the Cleveland Zoo

Rachel PolaniecOct 2019
“Asian Lantern Festival is a completely new way to experience the zoo and its animals and we couldn’t be more excited to bring this vibrant opportunity to our guests. This event is building on the success of our new Asian Highlands destination and our celebration of Asian culture at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. ”

— Kelly Manderfield, Cleveland Metroparks Chief Marketing Officer*

At Asian Lantern Festival at the Cleveland Zoo, the celebration begins from the moment visitors pull into the parking lot and are greeted by an extravagant display of colorful fish, featuring a larger-than-life koi. This is the unofficial theme of the Zoo’s Asian Lantern Festival, with eye-popping shapes, patterns, and colors splashed across our favorite zoo animals as larger-than-life lanterns.

Not to be outdone, the Zoo's entrance gets a welcoming lantern of its own.

Peppered throughout the Zoo’s 183 acres are over forty displays and hundreds of lanterns, adding a sort of treasure hunting mystique over the entire experience, as we wonder what new delights are waiting for us just around the bend of a path, or tucked into a verdant corner.

Or on a roof, in the case of these elephants.

The lanterns were brought to Cleveland by Tianyu Arts and Culture, a subsidiary of Sichuan Tianyu in Zigong, China. Here, in no particular order, are some of the highlights of the Cleveland Zoo’s Asian Lantern Festival, with intermittent commentary.

From 'Prosperous Fish,' greeting visitors in the parking lot. In China, the word for 'fish' ('Yu') is a homophone for 'abundance' and 'affluence.' The Tiyanu informative sign tells us that 'having fish during any festival meals represents having an abundance in the coming year.'

A 100-foot-long entry way ushers visitors into the opening piazza, where the only question is where to go first?

Each grouping of lanterns was accompanied by a helpful informative sign, explaining the animal or scene presented and any connection to Asian cultures.

'This lantern represents the lifestyle of charming penguins.' – accompanying Tianyu sign

On the road to Wilderness Trek …

Fall has come to the Cleveland Zoo! (Seriously though ... yesterday it was in the mid-50's. That's mid-teens in Celsius.)

Proud peacocks and prancing giraffes in Wilderness Trek

Elegant swans grace Waterfowl Lake

The mighty Chinese Dragon emerges from Waterfowl Lake! A part of Chinese history for 8,000 years, dragons are a symbol of luck and fortune. I made my husband and children pose for a photo in front of it - Westley’s looking like he could use some good fortune.

Mythological creatures

These remind me of that scene from Finding Nemo ....

'Kylin in Delight.' In ancient Chinese stories, Kylin is a traditional beast with a calm temper. They are considered a good omen.


“Fairy dancing with phoenixes” - here, the fairy carries a lucky light while standing on top of the display, a palace lantern. She is surrounded by dragons and four phoenixes. According to the sign, “The whole display brings great peace to the public.”

Down at bugs-eye level

Headed towards Monkey Island

'Tulip and Windmill' stimulates dreams and imagination, while referencing the Netherlands and surrounding countries.

'The Sea,' located in front of Monkey Island

Pandas! In addition to the lantern displays, the event featured nightly acrobatic performances. Plate spinning, Chinese yo-yo, foot juggling, dancers, and contortionists, all based on traditional Chinese practices.

A trip to the zoo was made even more memorable by the Asian Lantern Festival, and I am grateful to all those individuals who worked hard to put it together. 谢谢 (xiè xiè - Thank you)

*quote taken from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo article on the Asian Lantern Festival, listed second under “Additional Reading”

Additional Reading

Rachel Polaniec

Rachel Polaniec

Copywriter, Historic travel writer, seamstress, War of 1812 reenactor, and lover of all things Jane Austen.

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