Sixth Graders with Firecrackers: Let the Lantern Festival Begin

Our plan to was to up, head to the old city and prepare for the Yi Peng festival. We didn’t expect to see a school light up in fire.

After an hour of walking around and familiarizing ourselves with the area, we stumbled across this school, a Thai elementary school in the Old Town of Chiang Mai. This was the morning of Loy Krathong, the grand celebration of hopes and wishes, and this school seemed to be in as festive a mood as any.

All dressed up for the festivities. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

Young children, anywhere from 10 to maybe 13, had made large paper-mache lanterns and were setting them off into the air as fireworks dangled from beneath them.

The Outpost team and I were astonished that children of this age where able to be left to their own devices with not only fire, but fireworks as well. People walked around with torches, lighting up the insides of these overblown school science projects and launching them into the sky.

Yi Peng Chiang Mai

All done with the torch; time to set off the lantern. (Outpost / Michael Fraiman)

Also, we soon realized that this entire event was a contest of who’s lantern could go the highest. To my surprise, they had much success in lighting these giant lanterns and the fireworks could be heard across the entire community. Probably the most amazing one launched tiny airplanes when it reached maybe 50 metres in the sky; the planes zoomed out and flew loop-de-loops around the lantern. The energy in this place was electric, and a great introduction to the festival.

But things quickly took a turn when one of the lanterns drifted into the school’s cafeteria. Children ran and screamed everywhere, trying to grab nearby water bottles to put the fireworks out. Louder bangs followed, and anyone who ran in quickly ran back out, realizing this could literally light the school on fire.

It was total chaos, but amidst it all, the staff seemed to stay in a festive mood. We asked the school’s English teacher later on whether this kind of thing was illegal. “Usually, yes,” she replied with a smile.

Middle school was definitively different where I grew up.

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