The Lantern Maker

When we were little kids, my siblings and I always looked forward to the Mid-Autumn Festival. On that night, we could carry lanterns and play with our neighbours in the labyrinth of dark dingy back-alleys of Chinatown. In groups, our candle lit lanterns would float about in the darkness like giant fireflies. The boys usually carried lanterns with Ultraman, Batman, Superman and aeroplane designs, while the girls carried lanterns of rabbits, birds, fish and flowers. They were made the traditional way, using bended wires wrapped in colourful cellophane papers. Carrying our lanterns, we played games such as attempting to put out one another’s candle flames, making ghostly faces with the flames shining from our jaws, and even catching cockroaches from the drains!

Fast forward to the early 2000, it was our kids’ turn to carry lanterns. However, the lanterns they carried were no longer made the traditional way. Instead they carried mostly transparent “rubber floats” or translucent plastic toys lit by battery operated bulbs which also twinkle and emit kiddy music. Cartoon characters dominated the designs, such as Doraemon, Hello Kitty, Winnie the Pooh, Powerpuff girls and dinosaurs etc. Instead of the dingy alleys, our kids played in the void deck, playground, garden or the estate amphitheatre – safe, clean and bright.

Since young, I had made quite a number of lanterns. One of the earliest lantern I made was when I was in primary four in 1979. It was a huge red ball-like lantern made using wire and cellophane and painted with the words “Happy Teachers’ Day” on it. Teachers’ Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival both coincidentally fell on September of that year. The lantern was proudly hung on the ceiling of the classroom to celebrate both occasions.

There were various other smaller lanterns I made but I could only vaguely remember them as there were no photographs taken to memorialise them. For those fortunate few captured in photographs, I dug out their photos in a hike of nostalgia and festive mood and created this blog post as a memento. Take a walk down memory lane with YC, the “Lantern Maker”.

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1983 – Together with a secondary school classmate KC, we made this lantern to take part in a lantern-making competition. In its time, it was probably the biggest lantern we were making. Looking back, instead of a lantern, it actually looked more like a big wedding cake topped with Singapore themed dancing puppets, models of iconic buildings and adorned with lots of flowers at its base. An uncle of mine helped to install light bulbs on it. He even helped us ferry it to the Kallang Stadium on the back of an open-truck. During the journey, the tail winds were so strong that the fragile “toppings” were almost blown away. When we reached the competition ground, besides it being in a mess, we also realised how small our lantern was compared to the other entries. Overall, it was a really humbling experience.

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1988 - While serving my National Service as a cadet, one of my instructor and I jointly made a dragon lantern for our graduation "Dining-in". We were in "Delta" Company, which was represented by "Dragon". He made the dragon's skeleton using wire while I put on its skin using paper. I'm very glad I managed to get a photo of it, because it was sheer hard work for me (I'm on the extreme left of the photo, next to the dragon's tail). As a cadet, there was already very little rest time in between trainings, yet I had to carve it out further to make the dragon, either during weekends or when everyone else was asleep.
1988 – While serving my National Service as a cadet, one of my instructor and I jointly made a dragon lantern for our graduation “Dining-in”. We were in “Delta” Company, which was represented by “Dragon”. He made the dragon’s skeleton using wire while I put on its skin using paper. I’m very glad I managed to get a photo of it, because it was sheer hard work for me (I’m on the extreme left of the photo, next to the dragon’s tail). As a cadet, there was already very little rest time in between trainings, yet I managed to carve it out further to make the dragon, either during weekends or when everyone else was asleep.
1992 - Made this phoenix for an inter-block lantern-making competition during my boarding days at the university campus, almost single-handedly, again at night when everyone else was either dating, sleeping or mugging.
1992 – Made this phoenix for an inter-block lantern-making competition during my boarding days at the university campus, almost single-handedly, again at night when everyone else was either dating, sleeping or mugging.
2003 - These two traditional cellophane lanterns were made for my kids when they were in nursery. They were literally "Made-to-order" because they got to choose the designs! On the night of Mid-Autumn Festival 2003, my extended family picnicked on the Padang field in front of the City Hall. While the elders enjoyed mooncakes, pomelos and tea, the kids were supposed to run around the field with their lanterns. However, the lanterns proved too big and heavy for their frame, so we ended up carrying the lanterns ourselves and walking the kids!
2003 – These two traditional cellophane lanterns were made for my kids when they were in nursery. They were literally “Made-to-order” because they got to choose the designs! On the night of Mid-Autumn Festival 2003, my extended family picnicked on the Padang field in front of the City Hall. While the elders enjoyed mooncakes, pomelos and tea, the kids were supposed to run around the field with their lanterns. However, the lanterns proved too big and heavy for their frame, so we ended up carrying the lanterns ourselves and walking the kids!
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2010 – By this time, the kids had outgrown playing with lanterns, but that wasn’t true for making lanterns. Let’s watch how we made traditional wire and cellophane paper lanterns . . . step by step . . .

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Home-made Spongebob Squarepants and Alfred the Starfish blended so well with other traditional lanterns bought from the market. We loved our home festive decoration.
2010 – Home-made Spongebob Squarepants and Alfred the Starfish blended so well with other traditional lanterns bought from the market. We loved our home festive decoration.
2015 - We just had a mini reunion dinner at my mother's house to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. After the dinner, we had the usual mooncakes, pomelos, yams and drinks, but we didn't have any lanterns since the "kids" have all grown up. Notwithstanding, I created an instant "lantern" from pomelo skin, which surprised even the grown up kids. When it was lit, everyone took out their handphones and began snapping photos.
2015 – We just had a mini reunion dinner at my mother’s house to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. After the dinner, we had the usual mooncakes, pomelos, yams and drinks, but we didn’t have any lanterns since the “kids” have all grown up. Notwithstanding, I created an instant “lantern” from pomelo skin, which surprised even the grown up kids. When it was lit, everyone whipped out their handphones and began snapping photos.

5 thoughts on “The Lantern Maker

  • Hello, i am a student and want to know more about the person behind the lantern making. Do drop me an email at NrlAmaliaG@gmail.com.

    Thank you! looking forward for your reply!

  • Hi NrlAmalia, Thanks for your interest. That’s me who made the lanterns!

    YC

  • Thank you so much for writing about lantern. I lived in America and can’t find tradition lantern like this. I want my child which is 4 year old to see what lantern of my time look and feels like. I didn’t know the name of the type of paper used and don’t remember how the shape joined together. Now I can go find these material and come up with a light bulb, LED, perhaps battery powered or solar powered version of my own.
    Thank you very much.

  • Hi Dan, Thank you very much! It is easy to make the lantern using wire and cellophane paper.

  • Hi,

    I’m wondering if you do a workshop for schools? Do drop me an email at ain@impaktgroupinternational.com
    Thank you!

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