What Do Water Lanterns Symbolize: Exploring the Meaning Behind the Floating Lights

Water lanterns are not just pretty floating objects. They have a deeper meaning that often goes unnoticed. These lanterns represent hope and new beginnings, especially in traditional and spiritual practices. They have become a popular attraction in many events, including festivals and special occasions. But, what do these lanterns symbolize exactly?

In different cultures, water lanterns have different meanings. Chinese people believe that these lanterns will bring good luck, prosperity, and success. Many people in ancient Japan, on the other hand, use these lanterns to honor their ancestors and guide their spirits towards the afterlife. In Thailand, sky lanterns are more popular, and they are usually released during the Loi Krathong festival. These lanterns symbolize letting go of bad luck and starting anew with a pure heart.

In today’s world, where everything seems to be rushed, we all need a little bit of hope every now and then. Water lanterns serve as a beacon of hope and represent a new beginning. As we light the candle and watch the lanterns float away, we are given the opportunity to let go of the past and focus on our future. It’s a beautiful sight to see, and it’s easy to see why so many people are captivated by it.

History of Water Lanterns

The tradition of water lanterns, also known as floating lanterns, dates back to ancient times in Asia. It is believed that these lanterns were first used in the early Han dynasty in China, around 28-220 A.D. The first water lanterns were made of oiled rice paper stretched over a bamboo frame, with a candle or small lamp placed inside. In Japan, these floating lanterns were used during worship ceremonies to guide the souls of the dead back to their resting places.

Over time, water lanterns grew in popularity and started to be used for various celebrations and festivals. In Thailand, they are used during the annual Loy Krathong festival, where people release these lanterns onto the water to honor Buddha and let go of bad luck. In Vietnam, these lanterns are used to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, where children light them and let them float on the water.

Water lanterns also carry symbolic meanings. They represent hope, happiness, and new beginnings. The light of the lantern symbolizes enlightenment and the release of negative thoughts. Additionally, the water represents renewal and transformation, making the ritual of releasing water lanterns an emotional and reflective experience.

Cultural significance of water lanterns

Water lanterns are beautiful and meaningful cultural objects that hold significant traditions and beliefs around the world. Let’s explore some of the cultural significance of water lanterns:

  • In Japan, water lanterns are known as “toro nagashi,” which means floating lanterns. It is a traditional Buddhist ceremony where participants float the lanterns along rivers to guide the spirits of the deceased back to the other world.
  • In China, water lanterns symbolize unity and strength. During the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese people used to light lanterns to celebrate the end of the New Year’s celebrations. As time passed, the tradition evolved, and they began to set the lanterns on water, which has now become a famous ritual during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
  • In Thailand, water lanterns are known as “Khom Loi,” which means floating lanterns. It is a lovely festival that takes place during the Loy Krathong Festival, celebrated on the full moon day in November. The lanterns are lit with candles and released into the sky to “fly away” while carrying away one’s bad luck and troubles with them.

Aside from the cultural significance of water lanterns, there are also environmental and economic factors to consider when making or purchasing your lanterns. To be safe, opt for a lantern that is made from biodegradable materials and does not contain any harmful chemicals. It will not only ensure that the environment stays healthy, but it will also support local communities that make them by hand.

Regardless of where you are in the world, water lanterns symbolize different meanings and traditions. They are more than just beautiful and decorative objects that offer aesthetic value; they are a source of inspiration, hope, and healing. Let’s continue to honor and preserve the traditions and beliefs that surround these timeless objects.

Materials and Construction of Water Lanterns

Water lanterns, also known as sky lanterns, floating lanterns, or Chinese lanterns, have been used for centuries in Asia to symbolize good luck and prosperity. Over the years, the popularity of these lanterns has spread to other parts of the world, and they are now commonly used in festivals, weddings, and other special occasions. Here are some of the materials and construction techniques used in making water lanterns.


  • Rice paper or silk fabric – These are the most common materials used in making the lantern body. They are lightweight, semi-transparent, and can be easily decorated with designs or calligraphy.
  • Bamboo frame – The frame is used to give the lantern its shape and support the rice paper or silk fabric. Bamboo is lightweight, strong, and flexible, making it ideal for this purpose.
  • Decorative elements – Water lanterns are often adorned with tassels, fringes, or ribbons, which add to their beauty and elegance.


The construction of water lanterns requires skill and patience. Typically, the process begins with creating the bamboo frame, which is usually in the shape of a balloon or teardrop. The frame is then covered with rice paper or silk fabric, which is usually decorated with intricate designs or calligraphy. Once the lantern body is complete, a fuel source is added to the bottom, usually a small candle or oil lamp. The fuel source is then lit, which heats the air inside the lantern, causing it to rise and float into the sky.

Environmental Impact

While water lanterns are undoubtedly beautiful, there is growing concern about their environmental impact. When released into the sky, these lanterns contribute to pollution and can pose a fire hazard. Some cities, like New York City and Sydney, have banned the use of water lanterns altogether, citing concerns over safety and environmental damage. As such, it is important to consider both the cultural significance and the potential risks before using water lanterns.


For those who would like to enjoy the beauty of water lanterns without the associated risks, there are alternatives available. LED lanterns, for example, can be just as beautiful as traditional water lanterns, but without the fire hazard or pollution concerns. These lanterns use battery-powered LED lights to create a similar effect to that of a candle or oil lamp. Additionally, some organizations offer water lanterns made from eco-friendly materials, which biodegrade in water and do not pose a threat to the environment. By exploring these alternatives, it is possible to enjoy the beauty and cultural significance of water lanterns without causing harm to the environment.

Beautiful and unique decorationsPose a fire hazard
Symbolizes good luck and prosperityCan contribute to pollution
Cultural significanceBanned in some cities and countries

Overall, water lanterns are beautiful and culturally significant decorations that can add a touch of elegance to any occasion. However, it is important to consider the potential risks and environmental impact before using them. By exploring alternative options and using eco-friendly materials, it is possible to enjoy the beauty and cultural significance of water lanterns without causing harm to the environment.

Traditional festivals and events that feature water lanterns

Water lanterns have been used in various traditional festivals and events all over the world, symbolizing different meanings and purposes. Here are some of the most popular traditional festivals and events that showcase water lanterns:

  • Loi Krathong in Thailand: This festival is also known as the “Festival of Lights” and is celebrated nationwide on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month (usually in November). People release lotus-shaped lanterns made from banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense onto the rivers, canals, and lakes to pay homage to the river goddess and to release their bad luck and misfortunes.
  • Toro Nagashi in Japan: This festival is held in August and is also known as the “Floating Lantern Festival.” People make paper lanterns and release them onto the rivers, seas, and oceans to guide the spirits of the deceased back to the other world. This festival is believed to bring peace and calmness to the souls of the departed.
  • Yi Peng in Thailand: This festival is held in Chiang Mai in November, and it is famous for the beautiful release of thousands of sky lanterns made of rice paper and bamboo. People write their wishes and prayers on the lanterns and release them into the sky to carry their hopes and dreams to heaven. This festival symbolizes the release of negative thoughts and welcoming new beginnings with positivity.

These traditional festivals and events offer a unique cultural experience for both locals and tourists. Not only do they showcase the beauty of water lanterns, but they also provide a way to connect with the community and the spiritual realm.

Importance of water in the symbolism of water lanterns

Water is an essential element in the symbolism of water lanterns. As a precious resource, water has been associated with spiritual and cultural significance for centuries.

In the case of water lanterns, the presence of water takes on a particular significance. Water not only enhances the visual effect of the floating lantern but also plays an essential role in shaping the meaning behind the tradition.

The number 5

  • The number 5 holds significant importance in Japanese culture. It represents the five elements: earth, fire, water, air, and void.
  • In the case of water lanterns, the number 5 represents the five elements coming together to create a harmonious balance.
  • The five elements also symbolize the different stages of human experience: birth, growth, transformation, harvest, and death.

The symbolism of water in water lanterns

Within the symbolism of water lanterns, water takes on multiple meanings. Water represents purity, cleansing, and renewal. The act of releasing the lantern onto the water symbolizes letting go of negative energy and welcoming new beginnings.

Additionally, water represents the flow of life, and the lanterns’ floating symbolizes life’s journey. The intention behind the act is to let your inner light guide you through the ups and downs of the journey, like the lantern floating amidst the tides.

The presence of water also grounds the practice in environmentalism and mindfulness. The tradition of water lanterns has become increasingly popular worldwide; it is important to recognize the impact of the lanterns on natural bodies of water. Practitioners are encouraged to use biodegradable lanterns and clean up after themselves to preserve the environment.

The significance of the placement of water lanterns

The placement of water lanterns holds particular importance. Often, water lantern practitioners choose to release their lanterns in still water, such as a lake or a pond. This choice enhances the visual effect and creates a profound sense of tranquility for the viewer. The lanterns’ placement can also represent a specific geographical location with significance to the practitioners, tying the act to nature and community.

A riverThe flow of life and journey
A lakeTranquility and purity
OceanThe vastness of life and endless possibilities

Overall, the importance of water in the symbolism of water lanterns reflects a deep respect for nature, community, and the journey of life. The tradition has become a symbol of unity and a reminder to connect to our inner light and let it guide us through life’s ebbs and flows.

Religious meanings associated with water lanterns

Water lanterns have become a symbol of spirituality and enlightenment, representing various religious beliefs and ideologies. These lanterns hold a deep and significant meaning in numerous cultures and religions, and are used for special religious ceremonies, festivals, and rituals.

In many religions, water is considered sacred and is believed to have healing powers. Hence the use of water lanterns in spiritual practices reflects this belief. Let’s look at some of the religious meanings associated with water lanterns:

  • Buddhism: In Buddhism, water lanterns are known as “toro nagashi,” which means “lanterns on the water.” It is a ceremony where lit lanterns are set adrift in the water to guide the spirits of the deceased towards enlightenment. It represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth and is a way to honor the dead and seek blessings.
  • Christianity: In Christianity, water lanterns are seen as symbols of hope and faith. They are believed to represent Jesus Christ, who is called the “light of the world.” The lanterns are released as a way to honor loved ones who have passed on, with the belief that their spirits are now in the hands of God.
  • Hinduism: In Hinduism, water is considered a purifying element, and lighting a lantern is believed to be a way to ward off negative energy and bring positivity to one’s life. The act of setting afloat the lanterns is associated with worshiping the river goddess, Ganga, and seeking blessings from her.

Moreover, the number of lanterns released can also hold significance in religious practices. For example, in Buddhism, the number 6 is considered auspicious as it represents the six realms of existence. These realms include the world of gods, the world of demigods, the human world, the animal world, the world of hungry ghosts, and the world of hellish beings.

GodsThe upper realm of existence, characterized by blissful states of existence
DemigodsA realm of partial divinity and excessive desire, characterized by their jealousy of the gods
Human worldThe world of ordinary human existence
Animal worldA realm of animal existence, characterized by ignorance and suffering
Hungry ghostsA realm of extreme hunger and thirst, characterized by beings with tiny mouths and huge stomachs
Hellish beingsA realm of intense suffering, characterized by beings who suffer from extreme heat or cold

The release of six water lanterns represents the hope to move beyond these six realms of existence towards enlightenment and spiritual liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering.

Water lanterns hold deep religious symbolism and are a beautiful representation of the spiritual connection between humanity and the divine.

Differences and Similarities between Water Lanterns and Sky Lanterns

Water lanterns and sky lanterns are two traditional crafts that have been used in various festivities and cultural events. While both lanterns have some similarities in terms of their purpose and symbolism, there are some distinctive features that set them apart.

  • Materials: The most apparent difference between these two lanterns lies in the materials used to make them. Water lanterns are generally made of paper, while sky lanterns are typically made of bamboo or wire frames and covered with rice paper or thin silk.
  • Design and shape: Water lanterns come in various shapes and sizes, and they have a flat base that allows them to float on water. On the other hand, sky lanterns usually have a cylindrical or cubical shape and come in a range of colors.
  • Symbolism: Both lanterns have symbolic meanings, but their significance differs slightly. Water lanterns are often released to calm the spirits of the dead and honor ancestors, whereas sky lanterns are believed to bring good luck, happiness, and prosperity.
  • Environment: Sky lanterns pose a significant environmental hazard due to the risk of fire when they land. In contrast, water lanterns are considered environmentally friendly since they are made of biodegradable materials and do not pose any risk to wildlife or the ecosystem.
  • Usage: Water lanterns are most commonly used in religious ceremonies, weddings, and other cultural events. In contrast, sky lanterns are often used in festivals and celebrations, such as New Year’s Eve and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
  • Size: Sky lanterns are usually larger and can rise higher into the sky, with some measuring up to 30 feet in height. Water lanterns, on the other hand, are generally smaller and can fit comfortably in a person’s hand.
  • Number: In some cultures, the number of lanterns released holds significant importance. For instance, releasing seven sky lanterns is believed to bring good luck, prosperity, and happiness. Similarly, releasing seven water lanterns can symbolize purification and a fresh start.

Overall, both water lanterns and sky lanterns have a significant cultural and symbolic meaning, and they continue to be an essential part of many celebrations and events worldwide. Regardless of the differences in their materials, designs, and symbolism, both lanterns have the power to bring people together, create magical moments and impart a sense of peace and harmony.

Environmental impact of releasing water lanterns into bodies of water

Releasing water lanterns into bodies of water may seem like a harmless and beautiful gesture, but it has several negative effects on the environment.

  • Water Pollution: The lanterns are usually made of paper and bamboo, which may contain harmful chemicals. When released into the water, they decay and release these chemicals, polluting the water and harming aquatic life. The debris from the lanterns also adds to the pollution of the water.
  • Accidental Fires: Water lanterns are often used during festivals, and as they fly away, they can accidentally land on surrounding trees and structures, causing fires. These fires not only destroy natural habitats but can be harmful to humans as well.
  • Marine Life: The remains of the water lanterns can wash up onto shorelines and wash onto beaches. Sea turtles are known to mistake floating lanterns as prey. Eating the bamboo frames and paper can cause severe injury or suffocation in their digestive system.

In order to reduce these negative impacts, individuals and organizations that want to release water lanterns should find alternative, environmentally friendly ways to do so. One solution is to use biodegradable or natural materials that aren’t harmful to aquatic life or water sources. Another alternative is a virtual lantern festival, where people can light up an online lantern where no pollution or harm takes place. The bottom is water lanterns are not an animal or habitat-friendly thing; they should be more careful about disposing of them correctly and improving the environment from their pollution.

Environmental ImpactSolution
Water PollutionUse biodegradable or natural materials that aren’t harmful to aquatic life or water sources.
Accidental FiresUse electronic or pixel lanterns instead of live fuel and paper in lanterns
Marine LifeCreate public awareness and choose alternate methods of celebration

It’s important to remember we can enjoy the beauty of these floating lights while being mindful of the consequences they have on nature.

Significance of the colors and designs used in water lanterns

Water lanterns are not only beautiful decorations, but they also hold a significant meaning in their colors and designs. Each color and design can represent different things. Understanding the meaning behind water lanterns can deepen your appreciation of them.

Number 9

The number 9 is an important number in many cultures and religions. In Buddhism, it represents completeness and can also be associated with the nine stages on the path to enlightenment. In Chinese culture, the number 9 is considered lucky and is associated with the Emperor, who wore nine dragons on his robe. In numerology, the number 9 represents leadership, wisdom, and humanitarianism.

  • Completeness
  • Enlightenment
  • Luck
  • Leadership
  • Wisdom
  • Humanitarianism

Lotus Design

The lotus flower is a popular design seen in water lanterns. In many cultures, it symbolizes purity and enlightenment. The lotus flower grows in muddy water, yet it still blooms beautifully, representing the journey to enlightenment despite the struggles and obstacles in life.

Table of Colors and Their Meanings

RedGood fortune and joy
YellowWealth, wisdom, and clarity
PinkUniversal love, romantic love, and friendship
GreenHealth, prosperity, and balance
BluePeace, tranquility, and loyalty
PurpleRoyalty, luxury, and ambition

The colors used in water lanterns can also have cultural or regional significance. For example, in some Japanese festivals, the lanterns are all white, symbolizing the departed spirits of family members. The colors used in a water lantern can be chosen to reflect the intent and purpose of the event.

Modern adaptations and uses of water lanterns in art and décor

Water lanterns or floating lanterns have been used for centuries in various celebrations and rituals, particularly in Asian cultures. In recent years, they have become popular not only for traditional events but also as decorative pieces for homes and events like weddings and parties.

Here are some of the modern adaptations and uses of water lanterns in art and décor:

  • Wedding décor: Water lanterns can add a romantic and ethereal touch to any wedding décor. They can be used to create a pathway to the altar, as centerpieces, or to decorate pools or water features. The lanterns can be personalized with the couples’ initials or quotes and can even be released into the water at the end of the night for a beautiful send-off.
  • Art installations: Water lanterns have also been used in art installations. One example is the annual Light Festival in Amsterdam where hundreds of illuminated lanterns are released into the city’s waterways, creating a stunning spectacle of light. Another example is the Floating Lantern Peace Ceremony held in Hiroshima, Japan, where thousands of lanterns are released into the Motoyasu River as a symbol of hope for world peace.
  • Home décor: Water lanterns can also be used as unique and soothing decorative pieces for homes. They can be placed in pools or fountains, or simply floated in a large bowl or vase filled with water. Some lanterns even come with LED lights that change colors, adding an extra dimension to their beauty.

In addition to these modern uses, water lanterns continue to be used in traditional celebrations like the Thai festival of Loy Krathong, where they are released into rivers to carry away bad luck and woes.

Overall, water lanterns have evolved from being just traditional symbols of celebration and hope to being versatile and stunning decorative pieces that can be used in various art forms and home décor.

Take inspiration from these modern adaptations and use these beautiful lanterns to add a touch of elegance and tranquility to your next event or home design.

FAQs: What do Water Lanterns Symbolize?

Q: What are water lanterns?
A: Water lanterns are small floating lanterns made of rice paper, a wooden frame, and a tea light candle. They are often lit and released on water, such as a lake or river.

Q: What do water lanterns represent?
A: They are believed to symbolize a person’s hopes, dreams, and wishes. It is thought that as they are released on the water, the lanterns carry these aspirations into the universe.

Q: What cultures celebrate water lanterns?
A: The practice of lighting and releasing water lanterns is a tradition in many cultures, including Japan, Thailand, and China.

Q: Can water lanterns be used for any occasion?
A: Yes, water lanterns are often used for celebrations, such as weddings, funerals, and festivals. However, they can also be used for personal reflection and meditation.

Q: How are water lanterns decorated?
A: Water lanterns are usually decorated with simple messages or designs, such as a positive affirmation or a small sketch.

Q: How do you release a water lantern?
A: To release a water lantern, you should gently place it onto the water’s surface and light the candle. It will slowly drift away with the current.

Q: Are there any environmental concerns with water lanterns?
A: Yes, there are some environmental concerns with water lanterns. Some organizations discourage their use due to the potential harm to wildlife and water pollution.

Thanks for Exploring the Symbolism of Water Lanterns with Us!

We hope this article has given you a deeper understanding of what water lanterns symbolize and how they are used in different cultures. If you ever have the chance to release a water lantern, remember the hopes and dreams you’re sending into the world. Thank you for reading and be sure to visit again soon for more insightful articles!