The Feast of Lanterns floods Pacific Grove with tradition, pageantry and leisure.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
For 104 years, the Feast of Lanterns has consisted of two shows: the one that everybody sees and the one that goes on behind the scenes. Here, a look at both – from a former FOL princess’ perspective.
Behind the curtain, the search for the best young women to represent Feast of Lanterns and perform in the annual pageant of the Blue Willow Pattern, the folktale acted out by the princesses every July at Lovers Point, provides enough small-town drama to rival P.G. City Council meetings. First a number of aspiring young Pagrovian girls compile letters of recommendation and essays. The letters can be stressful – I remember having to call a teacher five times when I vied for a seat – but those tasks are tame compared to the interview with a panel of seven judges.
Their decision on who gets crowned has understandably left some broken hearts over the years. I remember feeling torn when I earned a slot because my close friend had missed the cut, and will never forget stifling my own joy when calling to console her.
Feast of Lanterns president Dixie Layne deflects the idea that politics play a part in the selection. “The panel doesn’t know anything about any of the girls and their families – it’s done very separate from the board,” she says. “I can’t see it being any fairer.”
People take the long tradition of “The Court” seriously, so changes (like this year’s shift from a court of nine to four) aren’t always welcome. But Queen Topaz Chloe Peterson says, “The shrinkage of the court has allowed us members to become much closer than we would have been if there had been nine girls.” Layne adds that the board was able to give the princesses much more individual coaching, resulting in an “in-depth knowledge of P.G. and its heritage.”
As always, this year’s court will play primary roles all weekend long – here are three highlights, with insight on how to best enjoy each.
Friday Night Fever and Fuzzy Friends
First the Pet Parade wags its way from Caledonia Park, then the Peninsula swings on the P.G. streets at the Street Dance, a favorite among FOL regulars and a great venue for teenagers who want to have some fun with their friends and younger kids who want to dance with their favorite princess. A special performance by the Royal Court closes the evening. They only reveal this number twice, and – believe me – they’ve been practicing hard. (2pm Fri parade, 6pm Fri dance)
Smart Pageant Plays
Some of the best stuff going on a multifaceted pageant day – that includes a world of children’s activities, live music at Lovers Point and a sandcastle contest on the adjacent beach – can be found at the Thaiwaiian Bistro and Miss Delish booths (fusion teriyaki bowls and peanut butter and mint chocolate cupcakes, respectively). Meanwhile, downtown’s Tessuti Zoo has colorful options for those still looking for lanterns. (11am-6pm Sat street festival and children’s activities)
Best Seats in the House
The platform above Lovers Point Beach offers the best view of the pageant for those who come early with blankets and stake out a good place. The beach below is a great spot to enjoy the show (and the fireworks that follow) with sand between the toes. Crowds make it wise to come early here, too; meanwhile, the longer revelers remain, the better their chances of being filmed for a BBC documentary about Monterey County natural history. According to Layne, the filmmaker will be focusing on the water events at the pageant. (7pm Sat)
THE FEAST OF LANTERNS starts 1pm Thursday, July 23, with the Opening Ceremony at Elmarie Dyke Open Space; the Closing Ceremony happens at Jewell Park 1pm Sunday, July 26. All events are free. For a full schedule, visit www.feast-of-lanterns.org.