Salvation Army Lantern Festival spreads joy of Christmas

published on 19 Dec 2022

Lantern festival

A Leeds park was lit up with the joy of Christmas as part of The Salvation Army’s annual Lantern Festival.

Organised by The Salvation Army’s South Leeds Outreach and local churches, the festival began in three locations in the Beeston area of the city with people invited to make their own lanterns before joining a procession to reflect the journey Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem.

The procession ended in Cross Flatts Park where people enjoyed a winter wonderland with music from The Salvation Army’s Leeds West Hunslet Band, sang carols and ate delicious food as the park was lit up to represent hope in dark times.

Salvation Army team leader Mark Hodgkinson said: “It was a lovely event and for me, what is significant is the idea of lighting up places that are quite dark and seeing them transformed, especially when we are going through a dark time at the moment with many people struggling. It’s like a proclamation that this is the good news of Christmas and there is a light that shines in the darkness.

Lantern festival
Chalk drawings to share news of the Lantern Festival

“One of the best things we did this year were some beautiful chalk murals, all created and coloured by local residents, which show the journey to Bethlehem and encouraged people to come to the festival. We were lucky in that it hasn’t rained recently so the drawings are still there!”

This year’s event was a hybrid of what they have done in previous years combining a festival in the park with a tour of the community.

Mark continued: “During the pandemic, we hired a double-decker bus and drove round the community with the band playing carols. We stopped at two local churches and outside a working men’s club. People really enjoyed it and the festival became associated with those venues – St Mary’s Church, St Luke’s Church and Rowland Road Working Men’s Club.

“This year we did the same, but walked between the venues with people joining us on the way to the park. We had about 60 or 70 people with us. Our narrative was that it reflected the journey to Bethlehem. We had a donkey, goats and people dressed as shepherds and some wise men, although we couldn’t get camels so we had alpacas instead! 

Lantern festival
Volunteers prepare for the Lantern Festival

“When we got to the park, we told the nativity story and lit up the park with lanterns and fairy lights. There was hot food, refreshments, carols, a local school choir and the band playing.

“The reason we chose the park was when we moved here 20 years ago, it was a no go area, people would advise you not to go there in dark, although it has changed over the years, it’s significant for us in bringing light to that dark place and the idea of there being hope.

“I have had really positive feedback from people who came, including the local school headteacher and Munroe K and White Rose Office Park, who sponsored it. It really brings the community together and that’s the appeal of it, it’s not in a church building but out there in the community.

“One volunteer who spent all day helping us set up and did a phenomenal job sent me the most amazing message saying that he had had a tough few years, but being at the festival was one of the most significant days of his life because he met the nicest people who are doing good things and changing lives. I was in tears reading that and that one piece of feedback made it worthwhile as it really did represent that message of hope.”

South Leeds Pioneer is a Salvation Army Fresh Expression, where Mark works with young people within the community rather than from a traditional Salvation Army church building. It works closely with the Leeds West Hunslet Corps in Hunslet Hall Road.

Stephen sitting in his home with a Christmas tree in the background, he is smiling in to the camera.

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