By Douglas W. Motley
The goal of the annual Water Lantern Festival is to bring friends, family and diverse communities together from all backgrounds and all walks of life to share in a memorable night’s event together. Unity is the major emphasis and philosophy of the event.
The Water Lantern Festival at Lake Gregory’s beach on Saturday, Oct. 23 attracted 1,400 to 1,700 participants creating their own personal and yet colorful array of floating lanterns, from local citizens to those who came from throughout Southern California to be involved or just to watch the event unfold. The whole event was impressive, from the music to the announcements from the stage to the creation or watching the decoration of the lanterns and the emotion of setting them upon the water and watching the float freely.
This the third year the Water Lantern Festival has been held at Lake Gregory – in 2018, 2019 and now this year, 2021, with a missed year due to COVID cancellations. Since all the final approvals for this event were only completed late this month, not a lot of local advertising was possible. So, most of the attendees were from down the hill. Many had never been to Lake Gregory, although when asked, they were greatly surprised to see such a peaceful lake so close to their Inland Empire homes, such as Riverside, Colton, Fontana and even Redlands.
Prior to the event, dozens of vendors in the parking lot and on the beach shore offered for sale many unique items, not usually seen for sale locally, ranging from colorful, blinking light sticks, much like swords you might see in a Star Wars episode, to cute children’s games, lava lamps, festival T-shirts, to blowup couches and tapestries to sit on along the lake’s shore.
Music by K-Love, who grew up in Riverside, entertained the people with soft, original songs to set the mood while they decorated their lanterns. People began arriving at 4 p.m., but the lanterns weren’t set sailing until sunset.
Each person was able to write whatever they desired upon their lantern and many were dedicated to loved ones who have passed or to those still living and children with hopes for their futures. All around the lake were banana banners with positive thoughts, like love, unity, share, happiness and hope, inspiring the lantern decorations.
Once the people and lanterns were assembled on the beach, an announcer called for yoga-like chants and deep breathing. Then, at dusk, participants began floating hundreds of their colorful, LED lit-up lanterns into the water, eliciting subdued cheers from those who were watching the beauty of the lanterns as they reflected upon the water from the shoreline.
Mrs. Lee from Paradise Mountain Coffee in Crestline said, “I think this is fabulous fun, I’m taking pictures of it all and love it.” Eileen from Crestline-based Moon Bear Heating Company told The Alpine Mountaineer, “I can see this from my deck, and decided to come down to the shore and meet with the people. I’m so glad I did, I love the big heart picture blow up frames,” while Mary from Riverside commented that she liked how it attracted a “multi-generational, multi-cultural crowd all enjoying the positive, peaceful experience together.”
Many of the lanterns celebrated new jobs, children, accomplishments, life-changing experiences, releasing losses and celebrating lives well spent. Each lantern is a personal expression of the participant. Love was a common theme. Each person, although celebrating their personal emotions, also felt a community spirit of doing this with others, which crossed all cultural barriers uniting them all in a positive, common experience.
Crestline’s Dr. Ginger Gabriel went with Teri Ostlie to the festival. She liked how the Hallelujah song was sung over the sound system. “With that bit of fog in the air, it created such a positive ambience for the 1,400 lanterns covered with words of gratitude, love and memorials on the lanterns, as they were set out on the lake. It was such a moving experience as the lanterns floated with a gentle breeze around the swim beach end of the lake.”
The Water Lantern Festival is put together by a Utah-based group and is designed to bring communities together.
They were inspired after a trip to Thailand after experiencing a “life festival” there and decided to bring that feeling of unity and peace back to share with others in the United States. They usually do over 100 festivals a year, sometimes up to five a weekend, between March and November, but this year could only do 60 nationwide, most with short lead times because of possibility of holding events opened and then closed up and finally reopened.
This was advertised as the Inland Empire festival, although in previous years, they held several in Inland Empire locales. Last year’s festivals were canceled due to the public gathering closures, so they accepted those previously sold tickets, too.
“Most tickets to the Water Lantern Festivals are pre-sold and we had over 1,200 pre-sold for this evening’s event,” said organizer Sam Bakker, who is from Logan, Utah. “We hire locally through Craigslist, although most of these employees were from down the mountain, as we didn’t have enough time to advertise locally this time, although we’ve advertised this through our Facebook page for several months.
“These festivals are all about bonding, getting together with others, many of whom you’ve never met before and building a feeling of unity and peacefulness.”
The organizers encourage respect for the environment and encourage all to pick up after themselves, but their staff picks up all the lanterns not taken home by their creators and recycles everything possible, including the wooden bases, LED candles and the rice paper.
Bakker said they hope to return the Water Lantern Festival to Lake Gregory next year, as it is a lovely location to hold it.