Realizing a Fairy Tale at Rise Lantern Festival

I had always questioned whether real-life re-creations of what many of us recognize as the lantern scene in Disney’s animated feature, Tangled, could actually happen. Romantic and magical, the princess plot was so extravagant that such an event seemingly couldn’t be realized.

But in 2014, around 10,000 people eagerly bought tickets to the inaugural Rise Lantern Festival, an event which granted people the opportunity to release floating lights into the Moapa Valley sky—and maybe to feel like their lives were part of a movie, even if just for a brief while. The now-annual event has been quick to sell out every year since, but this year I was able to experience the enlightening opportunity firsthand.

The highlight, which attracts people from all over the world, is obviously watching the lanterns ascend the night sky—but if you miss out on the process that builds up to that moment of release, you miss out on the entire heart of Rise.

This year’s experience began with a brief stroll from the ticketing area to the launching grounds, and along the way the setting became intimate—one can appreciate an environment with less light pollution than neon- and LED-soaked Las Vegas. At the main area, attendees were welcomed with the warmth of torches, while a playlist that included Coldplay, Bon Iver and Tycho emanated from surrounding speakers. It was the perfect ambiance to gaze at the stars, or reflect, as one wrote their hopes, dreams and wishes on their lantern.

No guidelines or rules existed, in terms of what was allowed on the personal lanterns—you jotted down whatever you wanted to put out to the world. For many, it was a list of family members or a significant other’s initials. Others had drawings of intricate patterns, with parents encouraging their kids to let their imaginations run wild. It was a moment of freedom, creativity, and camaraderie, which stirred up meaningful conversations, as we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable spirits.

I remember subconsciously holding my breath during the countdown right before the release. On the verge of letting my lantern go, a feeling of pure contentment washed over me. I glanced over at my peers, and witnessed the same glowing expression take over their faces.

“Ten-thousand people from all walks of life,” said a voice over the speakers, “all here to take in this one perfect moment in time.” We all stood with our eyes to the sky, watching each lantern rise at its own pace, while all floated in the same direction—a beautiful reminder of our very existence, how we are all mere waves making up a powerful ocean. Indeed, it was something straight out of a fairy tale.