On May 25th, a group of us gathered to participate in the official celebration of Buddha’s birthday in Ulaanbaatar. We walked to the stadium and waited in line with our tickets. Eventually they started admitting people from a few gates and we were ushered in and urged to get to close to the front and center. We were a little skeptical because we were not sure what we were doing. It appeared that everyone was sitting behind a single candle mounted on a post in the ground – presumably a thousand of them.
After well over an hour of prayers, chants, and speeches (no disrespect intended but nothing was in English so we were not too sure of what was going on), we were able to light the candles and then wait some more. The temperature had been dropping and while it was late May that meant that it would be getting pretty cool. Fortunately we all had little fires to use for some warmth now.
Finally the attendants started handing out the paper lanterns. We each expected one since we each had a candle but it turns out that there was about one for every 4 people. The lanterns were unfurled and stretched out over the flames to catch the fuel packet alight.
The rest of the evening was paper lanterns drifting off into the air.
(Well, a few moments of panic when people let go of the lanterns too soon and they drift horizontally toward people instead of the sky!)