Eileen has been a member of the Eden Project Communities network since 2015, and has attended many gatherings in Northern Ireland and the Eden Project Community Camp in 2016, all supported by National Lottery funding. She set up the lantern parade with several South Belfast members of the Eden network, and friends.
A sense of belonging
A winter lantern parade brings Christmas spirit to South Belfast every December. The parade has never drawn an audience since it started in Botanic Gardens in 2014, but as the main organiser Eileen Chan-Hu said, that’s because everyone joins in with the parade.
“From the start, we wanted this parade to be inclusive of everyone. We wanted everyone to take part, so that no one was left on the outside looking in, and our little parade has become a highlight in the South Belfast calendar.”
Many of the other network members help out with the lantern parade every year and they have held Big Lunch celebrations in summer for volunteers and anyone else who wishes to attend. In 2015, Eileen also set up Craic NI, a social enterprise delivering learning opportunities in integration, social cohesion and inclusive action. The lantern parade is just for the love of it, and a way to bring sense of connection and fun to her community.
“We get a lot of people who don’t normally go to events, but making the lanterns gives them a way to feel a part of it all so they get a sense of belonging, and share in the simple, happy atmosphere, at the darkest time of the year.”
Eileen said: “This can be a depressing and lonely time for many people and it can be hard for some to cope, so I love that we can give people a time to be with others, building lanterns together during workshops, or just sharing the Christmas spirit of the lantern lit parade.”
Belfast city Parks and Recreation department have given permission for the parade year after year and the Ulster museum have played kind hosts for the workshops and the carol singing afterwards. The workshops are open to all, and the group only ask that people contribute £1 towards the tea light. The volunteers lead the carolling, serve up tea, coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits and a there is usually also a visit from Santa.
Creating community spirit
Eileen said the community spirit during the parade lifts her up and really reminds her of the goodness of people.
“It’s really incredible at times how helpful people and local businesses have been with the parade needs. One of the volunteers went across the road to get a few paper cups from a café once when we were running out - they loved that we were holding the parade and gave us hundreds of cups. It brings out so much goodwill. It’s nice to get back your belief that people can actually get along and be together peacefully and joyfully for a while. Complete strangers from all backgrounds move together in the lantern-lit dark, singing Christmas carols. It is very atmospheric.”