Northern Lights Lantern FestivalLast night my two young children fell asleep clutching glowsticks, their day’s clothes thrown in a heap on the floor by their beds, covered in dried grass, sticky cotton candy and ketchup. It was three hours past their bedtime when their heads hit the pillow after a wonderful, magical night at the Northern Lights Lantern Festival.

There are a few remarkable things about this festival, and the first is its location, Merv Sullivan Park, locally known as “The Pit”.  The Pit is not a traditional festival ground but a baseball diamond, sports field and tobogganing hill, part of the former Rockhead Prison, and a stone’s throw from the expropriated community of Africville, thus forming part of the intriguing, troubled history of the area. The hill is hugely steep and superb for rolling down, and this is how many children – and some adults – arrive at the Northern Lights Lantern Festival!

Northern Lights Lantern Festival

Another remarkable thing about the festival is that it represents a truly diverse North End community. Looking around, I saw many familiar faces from the North End: Black, White, freckled, blonde, and everything in between. I also saw several groups of mothers and children, dressed smartly in hijab, presumably newcomers from Syria. In the lineup for the chip wagon, I heard exotic French-African accents. Later, I ran into our neighbours recently immigrated from Jamaica, and some friends from our daycare, who recently moved to Halifax from India. The North End is small, but the show of people at this festival proves that its makeup is as cosmopolitan as a neighbourhood in any large world city.

The festival also brings out diversity in age. Whereas so many “family” festivals translate into “Moms and Tots”, this festival is a true family event. Even the teenagers come! This year, in addition to pony rides, bouncy castles, games and face painting, Pokemon lures were part of the attraction.

Northern Lights Lantern Festival

Finally, although the festival gets bigger every year, it’s not about being big…and its definitely not about going home! The food offering is modest: two chip trucks serving fish n’ chips, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries, plus free cotton candy if you want to line up. The music is provided by local DJs and bands, and even a five year old boy who took to the stage to play “The Entertainer” on keyboards, ending with the main act, a very good rock cover band called Under the Sun.

Northern Lights Lantern Festival

The finale of the festival is the Parade of Lanterns. Once the darkness settles, children process in a circle, holding candles in mason jars lanterns they made earlier in the evening. This year, the candles were replaced with neon glow sticks. The procession is very peaceful and quiet. It feels sacred.

After the Parade of Lanterns my kids spent half an hour playing with friends, thinking of a million ways to shape, wear, wave and throw the glow sticks. Below is a beautiful video from a previous year, created by FPS productions.

Traditionally, the festival ends with fireworks but this year there were none due to the fire ban. Even so, it seems as though most families stayed til the end, when the 50/50 draw was announced. Some lucky person won $894.50 (and nary a Bingo dobber raised!).

I have one recommendation for next year’s festival and that is that a crossing guard be placed at the crosswalk on Novalea and Normandy Drive. Visibility is poor here due to parked cars, and for some reason, drivers generally seem to just plough through the crossing, regardless of pedestrians waiting to walk. (During school term, a faithful crosswalk guard is in place). This crosswalk is very busy during the festival, and I spoke to two groups of people who say they were nearly run over tonight.

Otherwise, the event was, as always, a large-scale but low-key way to connect with friends and neighbours – truly one of the best local festivals that Halifax has to offer.

Did you attend the Northern Lights Lantern Festival this year? What was your experience? Please let us know in the comments.