Chinese Lantern Picnic
by Dave

Picnic date idea with Chinese lanterns
The idea for this date is to have a night time picnic in a secluded, romantic spot with the soft glow of Chinese paper lanterns and candlelight. This is one of those unique date ideas that, if done well, won’t ever be forgotten by your date. A quiet picnic is also the perfect opportunity for two people to learn about each other. At first glance the idea may sound complicated, but read along and you’ll see that it's actually very quick and easy.

First off, you need to decide how many lanterns you want. The arrangement I prefer is to have one larger lantern hanging, say 12"-16" across, bookended by two smaller lanterns, like an 8" and a 6" size. Hang them at different heights for best effect. Other options are two larger lanterns, a number of smaller lanterns, or just one large one. When shopping for lanterns you will find the cheaper, standard paper lanterns and more expensive nylon or silk ones. The paper lanterns can be used once or twice and thrown away, but you may want to consider buying a good silk lantern for the larger lantern and giving it to your date as a gift or hanging it in your place as a reminder of a great night together. Once you decide how many lanterns and what sizes you'll need, take a look at some of the sites in the Links section for Chinese lantern examples. If you buy inexpensive paper lanterns, it may be a good idea to buy a spare or two for future use or in case of problems.

There's no perfect solution for lighting the lanterns in a secluded spot, but I think candles are the most cost-effective and versatile. Tea light candles are ideal because they are cheap, very small, and generally burn for only a few hours. Plus they're light, so they can easily be placed in the lanterns without weighing them down, and are sold in quantity so you will be able to place extras around the blanket for more light. The most important thing about using candles is to make sure they are secured! This is critical because you have an exposed flame in a lantern made out of paper, right under a tree. If the wind picks up and rocks the lanterns it can be a real problem. The fix for this is to make sure you secure the candles very well to the bottom of the lanterns using glue, melted wax, or whatever else you have at hand, and hang the lanterns far enough below the branches to minimize the risk. Make sure you give them a test run by affixing them to the lanterns before your date and testing out the brightness in a dark room and how well they stay in place with vigorous shaking. Smaller lanterns only need one candle, while you may want to place a cluster of two or three in the bigger ones.

Alternatives to candles are 3 or 12-LED battery-operated lights that can be found on most of the lantern sites. They're safer than candles but provide a colder, less romantic light and what will you ever use them for besides a Chinese lantern? An alternative to this is the do-it-yourself option of hanging a flashlight in the lantern. If it creates too much of a spotlight effect on the lower part of the lantern, try making a small cone out of white paper, about the size of the beam’s diameter, and resting it on the bottom to redirect light around the lantern.

The paper lanterns generally only come with a hook, so you will need twine, string, or wire to hang them from the branches. Figure 3 feet for each lantern will be plenty.

Now you need to think of a nice, secluded spot for a picnic at night. Ideally it will have trees you can use to hang the lanterns, but if you have a great place in mind that doesn't have trees, like the beach, you can substitute poles (tent, broom handle) or sticks. The lanterns are extremely light; you should be able to suspend them by wedging a few sticks into the ground. Think wilderness areas, parks, and beaches.

A fun build-up to this idea is to have everything prepared ahead of time and surprise your date with the lit picnic when you get there. To do this, tie the twine to the lanterns ahead of time, make sure the candles are set in place, and store it all in the trunk of your car for the drive over. Ask your date to stay in the car and close their eyes for a few minutes while you run over to the spot, spread the blanket, quickly tie the lanterns, and light candles. With your date’s eyes still closed, lead them near the spot, but not too close, and have them open their eyes. This should produce a good reaction. Now it's time for the fun part, enjoy!

When you're done with the picnic, blow out the candles, lay back, and take in the night sky.


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Cost

Lanterns $2+ each
Tea light candles $5 for a dozen
Battery-operated LED lights $5 each

Links

Good Picnic Ideas
Chinese lanterns
Chinese lanterns
Chinese lanterns
Battery-powered LED lights (3)
Battery-powered LED lights (12)

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