A ‘thank you’ from the queen of the Lantern Parade

Chantelle Rytter is a parade artist best known for founding the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade with the Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons, of which she is the captain. She lived in New Orleans for ten years and fell under the spell of parade culture—and the notion that creative play can be a civic gift.

This essay, on the eve of the 10th annual BeltLine Lantern Parade, which takes place Saturday, is a thank-you to those who made the parade a reality.

Atlanta, thank you for 10 years of lantern parading.

In contemplating the growth of the lantern parade, I can’t help but feel that it met a need. What do you suppose that need is?

I believe we have a common calling to delight one another. Once we get to answering that call on the regular, we never want to live any other way.

To see the people we share a city with as playful volumes of light, and to be witnessed as such, does a body good. It is restorative. It is collective joy, and we need it.

We have a need to meet in another space, above and away from the clamor of the day to laugh and dance together. We need traditions to remind us that we have the capacity for collective joy because we forget.
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Origin tales are important. Humans did this. Humans can do this. Our tradition of lantern parades comes from a small group of friends with an enormously playful spirit.

The Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons is twenty years old this year. We were ten years old when we asked everyone we knew to make a lantern and "Hold up a light for the BeltLine!"

People did not believe that the Beltline was happening, and most had never heard of a lantern parade, but the Krewe had a solid decade of street credit for being a hell of a lot of fun. Folks would ask, “How many people do you really think are going to do that with you?” Our inside joke was to say “A thousand!” with a straight face.

The interim Eastside trail was muddy that night. Rebecca’s dad was in a wheelchair and many hands helped him over the puddles. The weeds were waist-high and the path narrowed to single file.

You could see the cars passing below through the gaps in the old bridges. There were no spectators. It was just us, marching through the dark holding up our lanterns, imagining what the future of this land might be like. That night in 2010, we were the largest number of people to ever stand together on the Atlanta Beltline.

We’ve seen the lantern parade rise from 400 people to 70,000 during an extraordinarily divisive decade in our country. In our current climate, joyful actions are defiant.

Make a lantern and walk in the parade is a very different call to action. It is the call to delight one another, and we are answering it resoundingly. Humans can do this. At every lantern parade remember: We have such a capacity for collective joy that it can likely be seen from space.

Forever Grateful,

Chantelle Rytter

Captain of the Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons

MORE INFORMATION

The 10th Annual BeltLine Lantern Parade, takes place Saturday; 7 p.m. line-up; 8 p.m., parade steps off. You can download a parade map at art.beltline.org.