Walking through a city of light

By Jonathan Evans
Photography: Amy Wong / Leong Im Kai / Louis Li / MGTO

Of all the cultural events taking place this year in Macao, arguably none has greater symbolic significance than the Macao International Parade, which takes place on the afternoon of Sunday 8 December, climaxing at 7pm. Since the annual event began in 2011, it was designed specifically as a celebration of the handover from Portugal to China – first under the name “Parade through Macao, Latin City”, then rebranded in 2017 to “Macao International Parade” to emphasise its universal appeal.

    

    
    Photography: Macao International Parade

This year’s ninth procession coincides with a special milestone as Macao marks its 20th anniversary as a Chinese territory, and celebrates countries and regions included in the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s international infrastructure and development project. Performances come under the heading of “Themed Parade Group”, in which artistic groups present a routine lasting less than two minutes, or “Artistic Parade Group”, where performers may give free rein to their own creative quirks.

    

    
     Photography: Macao International Parade

In conjunction with the parade, a series of satellite activities will take place, including the “Art Promotion Mini Parade” which allows locals and tourists to experience the festive atmosphere in various parts of the city. There will be workshops, photography contests and social-media games. These peripheral events carry prizes, and there will also be awards given to participants in the main procession, including Best Costume, Most Creative, Parade King, Parade Queen and Best Performance.

    
    Photography: Macao International Parade

A blaze of multicultural colour, the parade follows the same route as last year, starting from the Ruins of St Paul’s. From here, it makes its way through Senado Square and Cathedral Square, proceeds along the scenic waterside thoroughfare of Avenida Panoramica do Lago Nam Van, and finally arrives in Sai Van Lake Square.

As the procession has evolved from being a platform for local arts groups, it has also showcased the cultural diversity of Macao itself, bringing the city’s numerous creative industries to the attention of visitors. As a vehicle for international creative exchange it’s now a pre-eminent event in the region; at the climax of last year’s parade, balloons from China and eight Portuguese-speaking countries filled the sky, while a group from France, White Horse, won the Best Costume award.

    
    Photography: Macao Light Festival

The weekend before the International Parade sees the start of the Macao Light Festival, the annual display of artistry that sees the territory creatively illuminated by night – this year under the theme “Explore the Light”. Those walking through the city after dark in the cooler climate of December can expect all sorts of electric visions and playful installations. There are four themed walking routes to help visitors explore the full extent of the festival; a total of 15 locations in Sai Van, Central/St Lazarus, North District and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, including landmarks such as the Ruins of St Paul’s and Taipa Houses–Museum, will play host to the illuminations.

    

    
    Photography: Macao Light Festival

As in previous years, interactive games and light-projection mapping shows are among the events. The mapping events are produced by a multi-national team representing Spain, Japan, China, Portugal and Macao, with projections taking place at the Ruins of St Paul’s and St Joseph’s Seminary and Church. Thematically, there will also be emphasis placed on the 20th anniversary of the Macao SAR’s establishment, along with other festive and cultural elements.

    
    Photography:Macao Light Festival    

Now in its fifth year, the festival aims to encourage spectators to explore the wider urban area of Macao by night, and to help visitors gain a greater appreciation of Macao’s culture and history. Macao Light Festival – Explore the Light bathes the city in colour every evening between 7pm and 10pm from 1 December to New Year’s Eve.

    
    Photography:Macao Light Festival

Moving further ahead to 2020, the first major festivities of the new decade take place in late January with the annual Parade for Celebration of the Year of the Rat, which is split into two separate events. The first set of festive activities passes through locations including the Historic Centre, A-Ma Temple are held during the first and the second day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. On the third day of the Lunar New Year (27 January) at the Sai Van Lake Square the Parade for Celebration of the Year of the Rat is organized by the Macao Government Tourism Office and is known for its colour and verve, and residents and visitors can expect to witness a procession of 19 floats, more than 1,000 performers from local and international arts groups, fireworks and dancing lions, together with a huge winding dragon. There are grandstands set up to help spectators enjoy the view.

    

    
    Photography: Chinese New Year Parade

The second parade is a more local affair, held in the northern part of peninsular Macao. Here, the floats proceed through the streets and the event comes to a climax with a cultural stage show, helping residents to enjoy a more localised version of the procession and visitors to familiarise themselves with these neighbourhoods.

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