Every year in Chiang Mai they begin the Loy Khratang festival by releasing Thom Loy lanterns. This is a Buddhist ceremony where families release mini hot air balloon-like lanterns into the night sky, praying that the lanterns take their bad luck and misfortune with them. Though I say "mini," some of these lanterns were 5 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter. The larger ones were made out of a polyester material; the smaller ones out of tissue paper (like the stuff you put into a Christmas bag).
First, a family unfolds the lantern. The bottom of the lantern is a rigid ring from which a flammable coil is held by wires. The coil is set on fire, and the fire fills the lantern with heat.
The family raises the lantern high, says a prayer, and then releases it into the night.
Although many people released their lanterns one or two at a time, whenever they wanted, the main Buddhist ceremony, complete with chanting monks, responsive chanting, and group prayers, released a thousand lanterns at once (more of that in the next post).