Illuminaria happens Sept. 14

MACL's annual event takes place at Mission's Fraser River Heritage Park

Light symbolizes many things to different people, but for organizers of Illuminaria, Mission’s largest lantern festival, light brings inclusion and togetherness to a community.

“It’s a magical event,” said Dawn Hein, executive director for Mission Association for Community Living (MACL), which has organized the event for 14 years.

“It’s popular with families, and it’s open and accessible to anyone. There are no barriers, including financial, which is why it’s a free event.”

Hein said light for many of the older clients MACL serves, marks the end of a dark period for them, when they were mostly institutionalized. Back then, she added, parents who had a child with developmental disabilities, were told to move on and forget about their child.

“Choosing the symbol of light — light at the end of the tunnel — seems fitting.”

For the younger generation, inclusion is a buzz word and their mantra, said Hein, noting Illuminaria will kick off Community Living month in October. “We want to support that.”

Thousands attend the event every year and Hein is encouraging everyone to make their lanterns early and shine them brightly at Fraser River Heritage Park on the evening of Sept. 14.

“Almost anything can be a lantern,” she said.

Artists can spend hours making paper mache lanterns, or you can simply decorate a mason jar, pour sand at the bottom, slip in a tea light candle, and wrap wire around it for a handle. She advises using battery-operated candles or flashlights in lanterns for young children.

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with official ceremonies and live entertainment. At dusk, pyrotechnic dancers will take the stage, and are sure to impress with a fire-breathing performer on stilts.

With lanterns, flashlights or glow sticks in hand, people can walk through a labyrinth of light and the evening will end with a spectacular fireworks display.

“We pride ourselves on a quality fireworks show,” said Hein, who noted support from the community and businesses is invaluable.

Performers will include people with different abilities and the Special Olympics group will organize the parking.

Illuminaria takes place Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at Fraser River Heritage Park. For more information visit missional.org.