Yellow bow, twirling, whirling, singing, carefree, little yellow bow. I envied the freedom you exhibited while you danced innocently as only a child can. Time stood still. Beautiful, Asian music echoed through this enchanting world. Surrounding us were thousands of vivid, animated, colorful lights and delicately hand-crafted Chinese lanterns. It was mystical, mesmerizing, and right in our back yard.

That is right. This amazing land was not across time zones or oceans. It was the Chinese Lantern Festival at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.

This exquisitely designed event that runs Wednesdays to Sundays from now until Oct. 29, brought together a vast array of artisans from China. I could go on for hours about the amazing history behind this project or the countless hours and thought that that went into creating a land where the only limit is your imagination. A world where elaborate lanterns built into animals from all seven continents could provide transportation to even the most skeptical viewer.

While the scenery was truly breathtaking in every aspect, there were other factors that captured my attention and embodied the spirit of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. I witnessed families of every shape and size, from all walks of life being able to take part in this once in a life-time event. Smiling volunteers who selflessly gave not only of their time but also their heart were waiting around every corner to help in any way they were needed. Above them, gorgeous birds hung from their trees cloaked in an indescribable freedom while live larks sang their glorious song.

Here in the garden, there were no prejudices nor disabilities. There was simply an inclusive joy that was nothing sort of contagious.

There I stood, lost in thought and in the moment. Dusk giving way to its successor, the once vocal larks were settling in for the evening. Surrounded by hundreds of dazzling, illuminated, uniquely designed lanterns. The scent of decadent food had been carried in with the evening breeze.

Down a short winding path, I found a variety of food trucks that had stationed themselves diagonal to a picnic shelter that radiated a warmth that can only be found amongst family, and here everyone was family. While parents debated on which tantalizing meal they would try first, children could be seen in the backdrop. They expressed themselves through play. For an evening, not even the sky could limit their curious and inventive minds.

After a delicious meal, boys and girls could be seen excitedly attending one of the Kung-Fu shows, rushing to the craft area, or eagerly engaging with the artist who had traveled all the way from China to be a part of this festival.

One Charlotte grandmother, Patricia Maclean, was taking pictures of the animated cranes, cloaked in their radiant light. When I spoke with her, she explained that she had been sending the snapshots to her grandchildren who lived in California. With a twinkle in her eye that only grandparents have, she told me that her grandchildren were envious over the amazing sights and she was excited to share them.  

As a mother, my thoughts drifted to my own children. I pictured immediately how much my son would love the interactive Kung-Fu programs that invited children and adults alike to come and participate. I envisioned the way my daughter would glow with excitement upon seeing the lively jellyfish, one of her favorite animals. I could only think of a couple hundred reasons that my children would adore this completely unique festival. Not only was this a show of art and culture that many children might not otherwise witness, but this festival encouraged a sense of play and independence that is all too often suppressed in today’s culture.

Here, children and adults alike were able to experience true freedom and that, moms and dads, is a priceless experience. If you do nothing else this autumn, I highly encourage you to spend an evening being transported to another world that is only a county away.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont

Photograph Credit: Hannah Moore

This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.

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