By STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — Dinner is served.
The Montreal Botanical Garden presents a milestone 20th edition of the Magic of Lanterns, the annual fall festival of lights. This year’s theme, “The Celestial Banquet,” serves up a visual feast for the ages.
“It’s a beautiful display for a beautiful theme,” said Magic of Lanterns designer My Quynh Duong, who has designed the space for the past 11 years. “And since it was our 20th anniversary, we wanted to find a legend inspired by a party.”
And what a party it is.
According to the legend, Duong said, the “Feast of Peaches” is being hosted by Xi Wang Mu, who is known as the Goddess of Immortality or the Queen of the Heavens.
“And she invites all the immortals to her banquet,” Duong said.
But if you didn’t get an invite this time around, you may have to wait a bit.
“The banquet is held only once every 3,000 years,” she said.
During the feast, the goddess offers all of her guests a special fruit in the form of a peach that has some eternal powers.
“These peaches let mortal beings live forever,” Duong said.
The banquet scene is played out in illuminated style on Dream Lake, the Chinese Garden’s tranquil centerpiece pond that’s surrounded with pathways and foliage. A few of the distinguished invited guests include the Eight Immortals; the Laughing Buddha; and Guanyin, the Goddess of Compassion.
Also displayed at the banquet, the goddess shows off her newest piece of jewelry, a rare pearl that has been transformed from a stone by a dragon.
And whenever there’s a party, there’s usually a party crasher, right? Enter the Monkey King. The ill-mannered Monkey King didn’t get an invite but showed up anyway. “He spoils the banquet by smashing all of the tables and stealing and eating all of the peaches. This legend has a lot of drama,” Duong quipped. Duong said she’s already working on next year’s edition. “Every year, we discover some new part of Chinese history that we like to share with the public. That’s the fun part,” she said. As for this year, “you’re all invited to the banquet here at the garden.”
In all, almost 1,000 large and small silk lanterns are on display. In addition, the neighboring Japanese Garden stays open at night with a new illuminated space dubbed “Gardens of Light.” The main greenhouses and the Insectarium remain open during the evening hours as well.
A number of special events are held throughout the month. Guided tours of the lanterns are available at 6:30 p.m. daily. Music performed on the erhu, the Chinese two-stringed violin, is played from 6 to 9 p.m. weekends in October. And Chinese percussion demonstrations are held in the evenings on Tuesdays, Oct. 23 and 30.
A word of note: This is the garden’s most popular event, so expect a crowd, particularly Friday and Saturday evenings.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Magic of Lanterns.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through Sunday, Nov. 4.
WHERE: Montreal Botanical Garden, 4101 Sherbrooke St. E., Montreal.
ADMISSION: $17.75 for adults, $16.75 for seniors, $13.50 for students, $9 for youths 5 to 17 and $50 for a family of four. CONTACT: Call (514) 872-1400 or visit www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin.