Sunday, November 18, 2012


What is that thing?
I've solved the mystery. Partially, at least.

Our new(est) apartment has a balcony with a great view of the city and we often see strange lights floating across the night sky. The first time this happened, I really thought- UFO! After watching mysterious object after mysterious object fall out of the sky, though, it was obvious that they were not alien invaders but rather simple paper lanterns.

Now I've discovered where they come from.

As anyone who lives here can tell you, these lanterns are not the only things to light up the night sky. Fireworks go off practically every week. It's not a holiday, it's not a grand opening, it's just someone celebrating something on an average night in the city. Still, it has always impressed me to see these displays. In America it's hard to get your hands on fireworks at all, and the big guns are usually reserved for government organizations and city officials. In Ukraine it seems like anyone can buy fireworks impressive enough to put on a crowd-pleasing show, fireworks that you'd need a professional license to be around in the States. I feel like I should be paying money to watch whenever I see these explosions randomly light up the night sky. No one has offered a plausible explanation for such an arbitrary event. I saw the question asked on the Kharkov expats Facebook group; no one there knew. My friends claim it may be a mafia celebration but I think they're just pulling my leg.... right?

But as for the lanterns, at least here's something I've seen with my own eyes now. I stumbled across this scene by chance last night. There didn't appear to be any central theme or organization. It was almost like a flash mob. Small groups of family and friends were bundled up against the cold, huddled around large paper lanterns. The men usually took the task of lighting the small combustible pad while women giggled encouragement. After the flame had caught, the lantern would puff out to resemble a heart and, with a small push, easily floated up into the sky.

(If you're missing the video, click here.)

The number of lit lanterns being sent into the sky was staggering. What was even crazier is that new ones would appear out of nowhere. There must have been some kind of sales booth nearby but I didn't see one as I wandered around.

Does anyone know the story behind this? Who organizes this event? How do people find out about it? What's the significance behind it? A friend mentioned that most people make wishes as they send their lantern up into the sky. He said his 9-year-old daughter is still wondering why her wish hasn't come true yet :p

At the other end of the square, holiday preparations were already being undertaken. The giant елка (Christmas tree) has already appeared despite the fact that the winter holidays here don't start until December 31st. But judging on how cool last year's display was, I understand why they're getting an early start! And now, by the way, is the perfect time to start checking in on Freedom Square's web cam.
last night
this afternoon

As I walked home, colored lanterns softly touched down around me. Some landed in the streets, others settled in the grasp of oak trees. They were still in the trees of Shevchenko Park as of today, a bit of cheerful decor against the bare branches of late fall. This big green lantern caught my eye and I brought it home for кит to play with. He was thrilled for about 2 minutes, eyeing it skeptically and sniffing it all over, and then he stalked off, already bored.
Had this been a real UFO, he probably would have been a lot more excited.

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