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Dragon Lights Albuquerque lights up Expo New Mexico

Expo New Mexico is being transformed with thousands of lights.

Beginning tonight, Dragon Lights Albuquerque will present nightly shows through Dec. 2. Last year, the festival was called the New Mexico Chinese Lantern Festival.

“The festival is bigger this year,” says Stephanie Zhou, Dragon Lights Albuquerque spokeswoman. “We’ve taken over the Villa Hispana and Indian Village like last year. We’ve also added some lanterns in the midway area.”

With more than 15,000 LED lights, the event will highlight the U.S. tour debut of “Temple of Heaven,” a three-story-tall ancient temple lantern, an enormous 40-foot-long dragon lantern and 28 oversized Chinese-themed lanterns.

The festival will also showcase Chinese dancers and acrobats in two nightly shows and three weekend shows featuring face-changing performances, contortion acts and Chinese yo-yo presentations.

A team of 25 artisans will assemble the lanterns, each of which was hand-built specifically for New Mexico by craftsmen from Zigong, China, which is regarded as China’s cultural capital for the ancient art of lantern-crafting.

“We are thrilled to share Chinese customs with New Mexicans and showcase our history and culture,” Zhou says. “While lantern festivals are generally celebrated on the last day of the lunar calendar, we are bringing this family-friendly experience to Expo New Mexico. For eight weeks, New Mexicans do not need a passport to experience the excitement and wonders of China.”

Zhou says the festival will feature interactive lanterns.

“We have a lantern where people can pedal a bicycle to change the lights,” she says. “There’s also a great white shark that people can walk through. With the technology changing rapidly, we are pushing ourselves in developing more interactive ideas. A lot of visitors really enjoy being able to touch and participate with them.”

Zhou says that in addition to the lanterns and performances, Dragon Lights Albuquerque will feature handcraft demonstrations, including inner-bottle painting, traditional Chinese calligraphy, and crystal engraving. Attendees can enjoy traditional Asian and American cuisine, along with fair food. There will be a beer garden for adults.

Dragon Lights Albuquerque is presented by Tianyu Arts and Culture, an international company devoted to sharing Chinese culture.

For 2,000 years, China has celebrated the new year with lanterns, and this year New Mexico will help celebrate with 25 of the largest lanterns the state has ever seen.

“The festival is an opportunity for New Mexicans to see handcrafted pieces of art made specifically for this festival,” Zhou says. “It takes nearly a year for everything to come together. The lanterns were shipped from China, and it took a month to get here.”