Inspiration, move me brightly. Light the song with sense and color. Hold away despair. -Robert Hunter
Lanterns have been part of Chinese culture for centuries, and like any other endeavor, refinements and improvements have occurred in that time. That combination of ancient artistry and modern materials has culminated in Lumination at Gilroy Gardens.
I see that it’s not quite dark yet. This may be a time when procrastination can be a positive, because the display is here until November, and every night until then the sun will set one minute later. A team of artists from China created this to be experienced in the dark, but they are still quite impressive in the sun, especially late in the day when the light is low and warm. It all begins before one enters the park, passing through the Gateway of Good Fortune and beside the Nine Heaven Pagoda between the parking lot and ticket booth. The silk glowed from without in the sunshine of a recent afternoon which eased the wait for them to glow from within as we moved into evening.
Gilroy Gardens was kind enough to supply us with Michael, there to guide us, answered questions and inexplicably haul around my tripod until the sun set. Michael was quite helpful; perhaps check the gift shop to inquire about a Michael of your own. For instance, he showed us the new path near Bonfante Falls opened to provide more views of Lumination.
The park hasn’t limited the celebration to the displays. There is special food and atmospheric music, of course. There were also two performances of acrobatics in the Lakeside Theater, preceded by similar antics on the smaller Marketplace stage.
Local artisans have not been ignored, and several were selling their creations near the Marketplace, too.
But most will spend the bulk of their time marveling at the displays spread throughout the grounds. One can get a brief, really brief, it ain’t gonna substitute for an AP class about Chinese culture, history of the most populous country on Earth. Each display includes an explanatory sign covering peacocks to pandas, from the Ming Dynasty to the Ming Vase, there are 30 points of interest on this tour. I was just enjoying it all on a visual level, waiting for the sun to clock out, let’s take a look.
This is a stroll through the Chinese Zodiac, where one can find the representative of one’s birth year, or maybe just one’s favorite animal.
The pandas inside Monarch Garden appear to be glowing due to the radioactive bamboo.
Substituting stately for whimsical are representations of the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven.
There are some variations on the lantern theme, such as the Bejeweled Qilin. The “qilin (pronounced “Chi-Lin”) is a divine and peaceful creature with the head of a lion, the eye of a tiger, the antlers of a deer, the body of an ox, and the scales of a dragon.” In this case, they are not made of silk. Instead, 65,000 glass bottles filled with colored water and illuminated from within.
Perhaps even more impressive, certainly more massive, is when 60,000 plates, saucers, cups, ladles and the like, are transformed into the 180 foot long Porcelain Dragon.
Naturally the lake occupying the center of Gilroy Gardens is incorporated into the journey. For an animal not native to China, lions sure are everywhere. The paw on a ball symbolizes dominion over the world, a trait recognized immediately by anyone that has ever shared a home with a cat.
And that colorful objects beyond the kittys? There’s probably a sign saying something exactly like this “An ancient Chinese folktale tells of a brave red carp who tried jumping over Dragon Gate Mountain. He lept with all his strength, hurtling like an arrow flying through the clouds. As he soared up and over the mountain, he was transformed into a powerful Chinese dragon. Today, this legend encourages children to achieve success through hard work and perseverance.”
10PM rolled up much too quickly, and we were crossing the bridge to the exit; never really made it into Claudia’s Garden.
While all of the displays can be seen by day guests, it is definitely designed for the dark side. Be aware that the rides are not operating during Lumination, although I did see that the train was running the night of my visit. Admission is $25, drops to $20 purchased online, and a mere $15 with a regular ticket or pass. Only the Gilroy Gardens Elite Membership includes admission to Illumination, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday through November 27. For more information visit