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There are many ways to provide light in the darkness. The flashlight comes to mind immediately, and it does a very good job.

Prior to the development of light bulbs and flashlights, people used torches, candles, oil lamps, kerosene lamps, and lanterns.

Some of us may think of a lantern as an outdated mode of lighting. Or at least nothing more than a decorative piece to produce some light and ambience at backyard parties.

But the fact is, today’s solar-powered lanterns are a modern convenience. They have a number of advantages over some other forms of lighting. Today I want to take a look at the evolution of the lantern before telling you what to look for in its modern form.

Tracing back to antiquity

The first mention of lanterns we’re aware of was in documents uncovered in ancient Greece. They’re mentioned by Empedocles of Agrigentum and the poet Theopompus.

Other countries of that time also used lanterns, including Egypt and China. They were made of paper, silk, or animal hide, along with wood and bamboo. Candles were the light source inside these lanterns. 

Eventually lanterns were made of tin boxes or cylinders with glass panels. They had holes at the top so the candle could get enough oxygen to keep burning.

In order to provide light at night for crossroads, lanterns made of iron baskets filled with wood knots were hung from poles and lit. Eventually they were replaced by oil lanterns using whale oil as fuel. Gas and kerosene lanterns followed.

Festivals and celebrations

In ancient China, fireflies were caught and placed in containers used as lanterns.

Some traditions with lanterns continue to this day in countries such as China for festivals and other celebrations.

The Ghost Festival in China includes lanterns in the shape of lotus (an aquatic plant) placed in rivers to symbolically guide the souls of ancestors.

The lighting of numerous paper lanterns also marks the final day of the lunar New Year in China. Some lanterns can be seen floating in the sky during this holiday celebration.

Becoming increasingly popular

More recently developed lanterns are electric and can be used for illuminating streets and houses. 

Lanterns are also sometimes used inside homes to light dark areas at night. They are also useful during camping and hunting trips.

Lanterns are seeing a big surge in popularity in recent years. Both for their practicality and appearance, but also for the ambience they add. They can be used on tabletops or strung as lights on patios. As well as on camping grounds and for RV trips.  

Due to their 360-degree shine radius, many people can benefit from their light at the same time. And, of course, they’re put into very good use when the power goes out.

What to look for in a lantern

Earlier I mentioned solar-powered lanterns. Batteries will wear out – often at the most inopportune time – so solar is the way to go. Plus, fuel-burning lanterns can be dangerous. Especially if used in small spaces without proper ventilation.

In addition to affordability, a quality to look for in your search for a solar lantern is its ability to charge other electric items, such as your phone. Make sure it has a USB charge port for that.

You don’t want a solar lantern that will blow over at the slightest breeze, so get one that’s stable but also easily portable. Make sure it is durable and weather-resistant, and has a hook for hanging.

Of course, the level of brightness is important. Look for a lantern that has 800 or more lumens. Which is the equivalent to the light produced by 800 candles or a 6-watt bulb. And if there are various settings for that light, including strobe, all the better.

You also want a lantern that is simple to use at the touch of a button, especially if children or grandchildren will occasionally operate them. Even a solar-powered lantern will contain a battery, so make sure it’s one that has long run times.

If you’re looking for a way to light up your indoor and outdoor activities, a solar lantern would be a great choice. Just make sure you get one that provides everything you need.

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