NC Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary breaks new record for economic impact

The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary continues to break attendance and economic impact records, even in its seventh year.

More than 216,000 visitors came to Koka Booth Amphtheatre over the run of the event from mid-November to early January, the venue reported Monday. That’s up from 2021 when 200,000 people visited the festival, setting a record that year.

Additionally, the lantern festival had a $7 million impact on the local economy, about $1.8 million more than the previous year, the venue said in a news release.

The venue reported that were 17 sold-out days and visitors from all 100 counties in North Carolina, across the United States and six different countries.

The Chinese Lantern Festival is one of Cary’s, and North Carolina’s, most anticipated events, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said in a statement.

Tianyu Arts & Culture designs the lanterns and is the exclusive partner with the Town of Cary for the event. The company, whose headquarters are in China, settled on Cary as the first location in North Carolina to display the lanterns in 2015, said William Lewis, the cultural arts manager for the Town of Cary and Booth Amphitheatre.

Last year, the venue announced the firm has extended its contract in Cary until 2028.

‘A unique experience’

Lewis said the commitment for the festival is year-round. The process to lay out the footprint for the seven-week event begins months before it debuts.

“The beautiful thing about the festival is that it’s new every year,” Lewis said. “Every year we change up the displays so it’s a unique experience. We get with partners pretty early on and start thinking and then try to pick lanterns that can tie into a different theme.”

The lanterns are made in China, where they have been made for thousands of years, before they’re sent to the port in Wilmington. The lanterns are then loaded onto about 15 different trucks and delivered to Cary, Lewis said.

“It takes about a month to set up, and they send about 50 workers from China to put them all together,” he said.

The lanterns are intricately handcrafted and fused with metal and painted silks. They are lit by LED lights. This year’s festival featured over 40 new displays and new routes.

In December, the festival also featured a sensory-friendly night for people on the autism spectrum that included lower decibel music, decreased capacity, no strobe or flashing lights and access to a designated quiet area for people to decompress from sensory overload.

Lewis said the festival has set new records of growth every year in attendance and economic impact. The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau completes a data analysis of the overall impact of the festival showing the new money flowing into the area.

The festival is not planned around a specific American or Chinese holiday but is held every November through January as it hits the multiple holiday season.

“It’s really a celebration of the artisan-ship. The displays are all uniquely crafted and art is curated for our space,” Lewis said. “It’s a long commitment.”

The Chinese Lantern Festival will return to Booth in November. Dates have not been announced. Information can be found at