Welcome to the Feast of Lanterns
For over one hundred years the citizens of Pacific Grove have celebrated its history and culture with a summer festival called the Feast of Lanterns. This Festival has evolved over its 100-plus year history from the ceremonial end to the Chautauqua Assembly with a lantern parade to the beach and fireworks over the bay to a multi-cultural community event filled with entertainment.
Today, with its traditions intact, it continues to provide family entertainment and educational experiences for the community it serves, plus scholarships for community-spirited, active middle school and high school girls who are selected each year to reign over the Festival as the Royal Court.
The Royal Court is selected from applicants by a committee of local business people, former Royal Court members, and Board members based on several factors, including academics, community service, extra curricular school activities and general personal interests. As members of the Royal Court, the girls are instructed in public speaking and the history and culture of their hometown, and are required to participate in community activities throughout their year-long reign.
The Feast of Lanterns is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization, with an all-volunteer Board of Directors. The proceeds of the festival each year, minus operating expenses, fund an academic scholarship program for the Royal Court.
The Legend of the Blue Willow
No one knows who first told the story of the "Blue Willow". Perhaps it was a Chinese storyteller who began telling the tale of Chang and his love for the beautiful Koong-se, and how they flew away as immortal doves, forever free. The Pacific Grove version was first told by Pauline Benton of the Red Gate Shadow Players in 1958 at Pacific Grove's Methodist Church - where the lovers fly away as Monarch Butterflies to return again every fall.
Long ago in far off Cathay, a land now called China, there lived during the reign of Emperors a wealthy Mandarin named T'so Ling. His land holdings were vast and fertile, and his treasures beyond counting. His palace was built of fine woods and rich lacquers with a roof of blue tile that gleamed in the sun, and a handmade fence that ran below the palace. Behind the palace grew an orange tree, and beside the palace ran a river with a graceful willow that gave shade in the heat of the day.
Of all T'so Ling's possessions, his beautiful Princess daughters with their jewel names were his greatest joy. The Mandarin delighted most in his eldest daughter, Koong-se, who he named Topaz, so named for the golden lights that twinkled from her eyes. Topaz passed her days in a summerhouse that leaned over the rippling water, where she did elegant embroidery on silk while listening to tales of old Cathay as told by her faithful nurse, Chun Soy.
T'so Ling thought Topaz so lovely that he wished to crown her as Queen. A coronation ceremony was planned, and all the princes, potentates, maharajahs and lords of the realm were invited to attend the coronation. One of the old Mandarins brought a chest of gold so impressive that T'so Ling thought this rich man would make a fine husband for his daughter Topaz. T'so Ling made plans to combine the coronation with a marriage feast.
Topaz heard this news and became quite despondent, for she had fallen in love with a poor, young scholar called Chang. Hearing of this, T'so Ling forbade his daughter to marry Chang. Topaz wandered off into the dark to drown herself. T'so Ling alerted the villagers to search for Topaz with lighted boats and lanterns. During the search Topaz and Chang reunited. In a final burst of lights, Topaz and Chang were illuminated as they changed into Monarch butterflies and escaped into the sky.
The pageant, which takes place on the last night of the Festival, tells the story in pantomime and ends with a burst of fireworks overhead as the lovers are seen for a brief moment departing in the guise of Monarch butterflies.