Sky Lanterns at Meydan Racecourse

Considering the countless events scheduled to take place throughout the United Arab Emirates to celebrate the 40th National Day on the same day at the same time, we chose to attend an event that we had never experienced before—the sky lanterns release! It was a last moment decision considering that I also wanted to go to the Heritage Village for see the cultural show.

Gates at the exclusive Meydan Racecourse opened at 5:30 pm, and it took us thirty minutes to queue for a parking space. It was here that we discovered the gorgeous and very futuristic-looking bridge where BMW 6 Series shot this clip for the Ghost Protocol movie. And I thought this bridge was in Abu Dhabi! I should definitely be going out more frequently.

After what seemed like forever, the huge hot air balloons finally arrived, rolled out carefully across the open field, and inflated. We all begin to get excited. Cameras started clicking away like crazy.

Remember the people who were practically glued to their prized seats? Well, once the balloons were half-filled, they got so excited the seats no longer mattered.

There is a food court at Meydan, but we brought along tea and snacks. I’m so glad we did.

It felt like seven hundred years since the balloons were filled and the crowd was beginning to get bored. To keep ourselves occupied, everyone began posing for pictures with the balloons as the background. But considering the size of the crowd, there was no way you could have your picture taken without having a stranger in the frame.

“So, is this all this show is about?” asked an elderly lady standing next to me, obviously bored. “Aren’t they at least going to release the balloons?”

“Um, no. They will not release the balloons,” I replied. “But there will be a mass release of lanterns soon. That will be pretty!”

“I don’t see any lanterns,” she said, her facial expressions suggesting she’d rather rest at home than be here, out in the cold.

Moments later, the lights went out and we were shown huge illuminated balloons, their lights flickering to the tune of the UAE’s national anthem, Star Wars soundtrack (strange, I know), and finally the Mission Impossible soundtrack.

All but one of the balloons were deflated afterwards. The only one remaining was the one that has Sheikh’s Mohammed’s (ruler of Dubai) picture on it. Some of the people had already purchased their paper lanterns, priced at 10 dirhams a piece. I didn’t see a notice anywhere that said the lanterns could be bought from the food court, so those who actually went to buy food saw the lanterns on sale too!

The mass release of these sky lanterns, the organizers said, was to symbolize the spirit of the union, the seven emirates united 40years ago to form the UAE that we know today. However, someone from the crowd was more excited over the union than others, and released his lantern:

So much for the spirit of union there! A single lantern alone in the massive black sky. We actually laughed about this.

This solitary lantern, however, got the crowd into action and everyone started to light up the candle and release their lanterns.

This was so much fun! Initially, since this was our first time (and also because we didn’t have a lighter) we simply watched others and learned how to release a lantern that would actually float out into the sky gracefully and not burn down (like some did).

The organizers, noticing how everyone have started releasing the lanterns at different intervals (totally not demonstrating the spirit of the union), began dispersing staff members telling everyone to go down the open space and release the lanterns together. They’d been announcing it over the microphone, but everyone was just too preoccupied to pay attention!

But once everyone worked together, it suddenly turned into a spectacular event!


Masood and his younger brother, Mushtaq, were somewhere in that crowd. Theirs was a purple lantern. We have an orange one with us, but we’re planning to release that in Hyderabad so the children there could see it live.

The lights were turned off again, creating a magical moment for everyone present at the Meydan race course that night. I’m glad we chose this over the traditional fireworks, the fountain show, or the car parade.

Here’s a short video that I took that night.



  1. That looks absolutely breathtaking! I hope you guys had fun… I can’t wait to spend some time the in the UAE, I hear there’s always something going on and so much to do and see. Glad to see you guys are in the best of health =)
    S&S recently posted..It’s like the …

    1. We had an amazing experience, S&S, thank you! Yes, there is always something going on in the UAE, specially during these cooler months. You should visit us soon 🙂

  2. Everyone has been very patient and I am glad that everyone felt the wait was worthwhile. It is funny seeing that single lantern go up in the sky yet inspiring how everyone decided to join. I just witnessed a spectacular view of these lanterns recently and it is a pity that I am a bit lazy joining such event. Thank you for sharing and I hope you can visit me at derivatives.

    1. Oh, there surely was a lovely smile on everyone’s face! Before that first solitary lantern was released, everyone was simply holding onto their paper lanterns, perhaps waiting for someone else to release first 🙂

      1. We do have a festival here in Malaysia where sky lanterns are released. But if I am not mistaken, it has something to do with religion (Buddhism). I do not have the proper knowledge to share with you, nevertheless. *sorry*

        I wish one day I could be floating high in one of the beautiful balloons. I bet the view from up above is magnificent and breathtaking.
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        1. Ati, I’m glad you commented. I did some research online and discovered that the first sky lanterns were released by Chinese during war as a form of signal or communication. Only much later did these lanterns become popular during festivals.

  3. This looks very pretty. Have you ever seen the move Tangled? This reminds me of the lantern ceremony in that movie somehow :). A more practical question though, what happens to the lanterns after release? Do they eventually fall back on the ground or do they incinerate in the air? And if it does fall, what happens to the debris? Just curious about that…

    1. Sadia, the event did remind me of Tangled! We were told that the paper used to create these lanterns are biodegradable. Also, Meydan Race course is HUGE and I don’t think any lantern made past the boundary because the candle is so little and won’t burn for long to hold the lantern up. But there was debris, of course, and that was taken care of the guys at the race course.

      1. I must admit that when I saw Tangled…I really wanted to find these lanterns! I can’t believe I missed out. I was away during UAE National Day events. 🙁 Thanks for sharing the pictures and video.

        1. Aww, but don’t worry, Sabirah, considering the number of people who turned out at that night, I’m sure they will organize a similar event next year.

    1. Unnekmuslimah, it really felt like a scene from Tangled! And that’s why I made a video because I didn’t think the still photographs were doing any justice to the experience 🙂

  4. Nadia, this was such a wonderful read! i enjoyed reading this and awww the lanterns reminded me of Tangled ( the animated movie) where the king releases the lanterns every year on her daughter’s b’day 😀 i love these

    lol, i dont get it why didnt the organisers started releasing the lanterns before the crowd started doing it?
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    1. Hi Mubi! When I was watching that scene from Tangled, I wondered about these lanterns, how they were released or how it must be to see the event with my own eyes. I had no idea that I’d be releasing my own lantern in Dubai! It was truly a beautiful and memorable event.

      Actually, the organizers didn’t release lanterns; it was all done by the crowd. The organizers just provided the background music 😀

  5. hello, been out for quite some time.
    Was that a yearly event in UAE? I think the writer of the movie Tangled got his idea from that when the King and Queen releases lighted lanterns every b’day of the lost princess..
    i love the video! 🙂
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    1. Brenda! How are you doing? No, this was the first time that they organized such an event. I don’t know but maybe there’s a chance that they might make this an annual tradition.

  6. It was great to see the sky lighted with these artificial ‘stars’. This reminds me of a festival in India, called the Kite Festival. During the day the sky is filled with colors due to a number of people flying kites in the sky and in the night they fly these artificial ‘stars’. They are not as big as the ones shown here.
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