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Nadia Ridings, 8, of Kennesaw, Georgia, has her face painted by Princess Ruby Kimberly Huynh at Lovers Point on Saturday during Feast of Lanterns activities. (Vernon McKnight -- Herald Correspondent)

PACIFIC GROVE >> Good luck with your grade school-aged daughter if it's bath night and she had her face, arm, shoulder or leg painted earlier in the day by a queen or princess. You'll never get her in the tub.

Starry-eyed dreamers lined up Saturday at Lovers Point, site of the century-old celebration known as the Feast of Lanterns, to have their skin decorated by a member of the Royal Court — five princesses and Queen Topaz, herself — at a festival of family fun that has become a rite of passage for little girls growing up in Pacific Grove.

Amid carnival rides, bounce houses, slides and lots of food, the tiara-wearing celebrities were a magnetic attraction.

"When I was a little girl, it was like visiting Disneyland every year to see the princesses and the queen," remembers Minhee Cho, the 15-year-old junior-to-be at Pacific Grove High who was selected to reign as Queen Topaz for the entirety of 2014. "I was absolutely star-struck and wanted to be just like them."

Cho is the first member of her family to serve on the Feast of Lanterns' Royal Court, an honor that originated with "The Legend of the Blue Willow," an ancient Chinese tale of a wealthy landowner and his six daughters, each named after a jewel. The story is re-enacted each year by the six Pacific Grove girls who are selected by a panel of local business leaders to serve as Queen Topaz (Cho), Princess Amethyst (Catherine Gruber), Princess Garnet (Ashley Lyon), Princess Turquoise (Caroline Gruber), Princess Pearl (Olivia Cain) and Princess Ruby (Kimberly Huynh). Consideration for the Royal Court is based on criteria that include academics, community service, extracurricular school activities and general personal interests.


"The children here are actually looking at me the same way I looked at the queen and princesses when I was a little girl," Cho said. "It's awesome how much respect I'm getting from kids who are so little. I just love making them happy."

Cho says her plans beyond Pacific Grove High are undetermined right now, but she's considering pursuing some type of medical career, perhaps in nursing. Two older sisters currently are headed to Ohio State for pharmacy school.

"I was very excited when I found out I'd been chosen (as Princess Pearl). They sent us a letter and a bouquet of flowers to let us know," said Cain, who will be a sophomore at Pacific Grove High in the fall. "I thought the members of the Royal Court were celebrities when I was a little girl. They were just so cool. In those days, when the street dance was actually in the street, you got to dance with them, and talk to them, and they gave you their (trading cards) . . . it was just so much fun, That's when I started dreaming of becoming a princess here."

The festival, which continues Sunday, also included entertainers, an 18-minute fireworks show (paid for this year by local real estate agents Jan Pratt and J.R. Rouse), and the traditional parade of ornately lighted boats on the bay.

"My wife (Joni Birth, board president for Feast of Lanterns) was actually part of the court as one of the princesses when she was young, and her parents were on the board of directors for 27 years. When they retired, we took over," said Shelby Birch, one of five directors of the event.

"It's more work than you might imagine," he said with a laugh. "Everybody thinks it's the city that puts this thing on, but the Feast of Lanterns is put together by an all-volunteer board, and there are only nine of us right now. But we have a lot of other volunteers and the community is so good to us that it makes it all worthwhile."

"This is our second time here, and we're going to come back every year now," said Jamie Scheidegger, a resident of Carmichael whose two young daughters were admiring body art that had been applied moments earlier by members of the court. "I like the family atmosphere — the fact that it's good, clean fun and everybody's having a good time."

Sunday's highlight will be entertainment, refreshments and closing ceremonies, scheduled for 2 p.m. at Chautauqua Hall, on Central Avenue between 16th and 17th streets in Pacific Grove. See for additional information.

Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344