A paper lantern is a lantern made of thin, brightly colored paper. Paper lanterns come in various shapes and sizes, as well as various methods of construction. In their simplest form, they are simply a paper bag with a candle placed inside, although more complicated lanterns consist of a collapsible bamboo or metal frame of hoops covered with tough paper.
Sometimes, other lanterns can be made out of colored silk (usually red) or vinyl. Silk lanterns are also collapsible with a metal expander and are decorated with Chinese characters and/or designs. The vinyl lanterns are more durable; they can resist rain, sunlight, and wind. Paper lanterns do not last very long, they soon break, and silk lanterns last longer. The gold paper on them will soon fade away to a pale white, and the red silk will become a mix between pink and red.
In Asian culture
Often associated with festivals, paper lanterns are common in China, Korea, and Japan and, similarly, in Chinatowns, where they are often hung outside of businesses to attract attention. In Japan the traditional styles include bonbori and chōchin and there is a special style of lettering called chōchin moji used to write on them.
Airborne paper lanterns are called sky lanterns, and are often released into the night sky for aesthetic effect at lantern festivals.
In China, paper lanterns can be classified into 5 distinct classes; the Baby’s Bottom is the miniature class, often used in modern times with Christmas lights. The second class is the Rolling Paper, the tall, cylindrical lanterns often associated with restaurants and bars. The third class is the Tomato Light also known as Big Red; the classic round mid-size lantern. The fourth class is the Crystal Magic; the variously-shaped geometric lamps constructed of many square and triangular panes. The last is known as Buddha’s Gastronomy; the large and extra large lanterns used to decorate temples and for show at festivals. Also, there are the traditional Chinese lanterns, primarily red but also in other colours, that can be round or capsule-shaped, usually seen in stores, at temples, or during festivals. The color red (fire) traditionally symbolizes good fortune and joy.
In Western culture
Placing candles or tea lights in a succession of small paper bags (known as luminarias or farolitos) is a common tradition in Hispanic communities during Christmas.
During the Festa della Rificolona held in Florence, Italy, children carry colourful paper lanterns through the streets of the city.
In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other German-speaking parts of Europe there is a tradition of the Sankt-Martins-Umzug, during which children parade with paper lanterns that are traditionally handmade.
Source – here