HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN TAIWAN
National Public Holidays: Founding Day (January 1, marking the founding of the Republic of China in 1912); Lunar New Year (also called Spring Festival, based on the lunar calendar, occurs between January 21 and February 19 and is preceded by eight days of preparatory festivities); Peace Memorial Day (February 28, commemorating the February 28, 1947, incident);Tomb Sweeping Day (Ching Ming, April 4); Dragon Boat Festival (fifth day of the fifth lunar month, movable date in June); Mid-Autumn Festival (15th day of the eighth lunar month, movable date in September); and Double Tenth National Day (October 10, also called Republic Day, commemorates the anniversary of the Chinese revolution in 1911 and the date from which years are sometimes counted). Also marked but not as national holidays and closure of government offices are Youth Day (March 29), Women’s and Children’s Day (April 4), Labor Day (May 1), Mother’s Day (May 8), Father’s Day (August 8), Ghost Festival (15th day of the seventh lunar month, movable date in August or September), Armed Forces Day (September 3), Teachers’ Day and Confucius’s Birthday (September 28), Taiwan Retrocession Day (October 25, marks return by Japan of Taiwan to Chinese rule in 1945), Sun Yat-sen’s Birthday (November 12), and Constitution Day (December 25). [Source: Library of Congress, March 2005]
Taiwanese eat pigs feet and kong noodles—symbols of longevity—on their birthdays. To celebrate the birth of the popular Taoist goddess Matsu in Tachia in central Tawian a dragon dance is performed outside Chenland temple. The temple says a million followers join parts of the eight-day, 280-kilometer pilgrimage to the temple. Kite Day, or the Festival of Climbing Heights, has traditionally been held on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month.
October 10th—Double Ten Day (National Day) is one of the biggest holidays of the year. It celebrates the Sun Yat-sen-inspired 1911 revolution that overthrew the last Chinese dynasty.The large parade at plaza in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei is really something to behold. Hundreds of uniformed soldiers with glistening stainless helmets march through the streets, all holding color portraits of Sun. There are also displays of martial arts, folk dances and other cultural activities.
During Taoist pai pai temple festivals in the 1960s shaved pig carcasses with fish and pineapples stuffed in their mouth were paraded through the streets on decorated bamboo platforms, followed by itinerant opera troupes and puppeteers singing in high pitched voices and dancing to shrill flute music and gongs. The larger the pig the more honor received by a family, and it was not unusual for a single pig to weigh a half a ton or more. To make the carcasses look nice, their eyebrows were plucked, the hoofs were manicured and red stamps were placed all over the hide. [Source: Helen and Frank Shreider, National Geographic, January 1969]
Festivals and Tourism in Taiwan
Steven Crook wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Festivals are undoubtedly a big part of local life and a major driver of Taiwan's tourist industry. There is a historical reason for this: Before Taiwan became an affluent society, events like gods' birthdays and pilgrimages offered important diversions. For ordinary people, these festivals--along with family events like weddings — provided occasions when they could take time out from the daily struggle to relax and enjoy themselves. "Taiwan's festivals are without doubt a major draw for overseas Chinese," says Elisa Lim, a freelance reporter who has written about Taiwan for Chinese-language magazines and newspapers in Hong Kong and Malaysia as well as in her native Singapore. "Many are curious about the customs of an island that's often and rightly described as 'the most Chinese place on Earth.'" [Source: Steven Crook, Taiwan Review, August 2009 \*/]
“Like most of those who attend the Lantern Festival, a colorful multi-day, multi-city event that occurs two weeks after the Lunar New Year, Taiwanese day-trippers account for the bulk of the visitors at the Songjiang Battle Array in Kaohsiung County, Hsinchu City's Glass Art Street Carnival or the Mid-Summer Ghost Festival in the northwest port city of Keelung. However, while international visitors remain a minority, their numbers are growing. As the Tourism Bureau leaflet goes on to explain, Taiwan's roster of festivals has grown considerably in recent years. Local governments throughout the island have created events that they hope will attract free-spending visitors, such as the Hsinchu City International Glass Art Festival, which is held every two years, and the annual Hsinchu City Glass Art Street Carnival. \*/
“The Tourism Bureau sees the island's festivals as a way of enhancing Taiwan's general visibility, bureau officials say. Events that have the potential to attract international sightseers are promoted through cooperation with travel agencies and the media, as well as via multilingual websites and leaflets. Officials explain that, as part of the bureau's endeavors to turn Taiwan into one of Asia's main tourism destinations, it selects for international marketing those festivals that best present local life and that offer "display windows" through which to appreciate Taiwan's cultural characteristics. \*/
“Tourism Bureau officials say local governments are advised to be active and optimistic when planning festivals and to consider everything from the viewpoint of potential tourists. The most successful themes are usually unique local customs or crafts. Considered together, Taiwan's festivals amount to a multi-dimensional expression of local cultural characteristics, officials say. Taiwan is trying to build up its cultural and creative industries and, the Tourism Bureau stresses, the fact that there are now festivals throughout the year symbolizes the growth of creativity and vitality in Taiwan. \*/
Major Festivals in Taiwan
Steven Crook wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Because folk customs and religion are close to the average person's life, festivals with those themes tend to draw a lot of domestic tourists. But, officials explain, if transportation and lodging can be coordinated, those same events can also attract many people from overseas because of their cultural content. The Lantern Festival, the Dajia Matsu Sightseeing and Culture Festival in central Taiwan, the Songjiang Battle Array in Kaohsiung County and Keelung's Mid-Summer Ghost Festival are all examples of this attraction, they say. The fame of the Lantern Festival is such that it has been featured on Discovery Networks International's Travel & Living Channel. [Source: Steven Crook, Taiwan Review, August 2009 \*/]
“The Dajia Matsu Sightseeing and Culture Festival is a tourist-oriented presentation of what is said to be the largest religious event in the world outside India--the annual pilgrimage from Dajia in Taichung County to Xingang in Chiayi County in honor of Matsu, the Goddess of the Sea and one of Taiwan's most popular deities. The pilgrimage lasts eight days and covers 300 kilometers. Despite a growing interest among the non-religious, the bulk of those taking part still do so out of piety. The Lantern Festival and another event, the annual Taiwan Culinary Exhibition, are directly funded by the Tourism Bureau. Other festivals are subsidized on a case-by-case basis, officials say, explaining that those that are "distinctive, focused, unique and that have a theme suitable for international marketing" are more likely to be successful. The Tourism Bureau is not the only central government unit assisting festivals in Taiwan, however, as the Council for Cultural Affairs is also often listed as a sponsor. \*/
“Aside from festivals devoted to food and special local products, there is a third type of new event--one that adds peripheral activities to an established tradition so it can be repackaged and presented to a wider audience. The International Qixi Arts Festival in Tainan, southern Taiwan falls into this category. First held in 2002, the event builds on a coming-of-age ceremony unique to the southern Taiwan city. Formerly, those wishing to participate in the ceremony, which involves crawling under an altar in Tainan's Kailong Temple, had to purchase special clothing, shoes and hats in order to take part in the associated rites. They also had to prepare specific items for it including a duck, a chicken and a red rice cake. Nowadays the clothes can be rented and the offerings need not follow custom so closely. Moreover, the Tainan City Government has also begun offering folk performances and pop concerts to broaden the appeal of the festival. The economic motive behind new festivals such as Qixi's is obvious. In at least two other places in Taiwan, similarly age-old traditions have been successfully leveraged into massive tourist events. \*/
Chinese New Year in Taiwan
Chinese New Year falls between January 20 and February 20. It lasts for four days and is celebrated around the island with family reunions, banquets, visits with friends, and religious worship. Fireworks shows and dragon dances usually begin at midnight on Chinese New Year's Eve. The red silk and papier-mâché dragons used in Chinese New Year festivities sometimes are 100 feet long and carried by a 30 men. Their arrival of the new year is announced with the banging of drums, cymbals and gongs as well as explosions of strings of fireworks. A lion dancer dressed in a leopard-skin strong-man outfit sometimes carries the head and dragon and lights and tosses a combustible powder that is supposed to simulate a dragons' fiery breath.
Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is celebrated from the first to the fifth day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Literally, Chinese people refer to this festival as "passing the year," which means shooing out the old and welcoming the new; it is considered the most important Chinese holiday of the year. There are a number of related customs and traditions that go along with the festival. Normally, on the 23rd or 24th day of the last month of the Chinese lunar calendar, people sacrifice to the Hearth God and send him off on his annual journey to Heaven; this signals the start of the Chinese New Year holidays. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
On the Chinese New Year's Eve, families complete their spring cleaning, signifying the sweeping away of the misfortunes of the previous year. After the spring cleaning, a New Year's cake is made (the cake is a symbol of "reaching new heights"). The second to last day of the last month of the Chinese lunar calendar is when families stick up spring couplets and New Year’s prints on their doors and windows to bring good luck. On the last day of the last month of the Chinese lunar calendar, families gather together for a New Year’s Eve dinner, called the "Gathering around the stove." Adults then give the younger members of the family, particularly children, red envelopes with cash inside. This monetary gift is thought to bring peace and good fortune to the recipients. Then there is the "Keeping of the Year," which is seeing the old year out and the New Year in by staying up on New Year’s Eve. This starts after the family has finished eating the New Year’s Eve dinner. ~
Once the clock strikes midnight, people set off firecrackers to welcome the arrival of the New Year. Often lots of firecrackers are set off. In the past, authorities have given out audio tapes of firecrackers exploding to discourage firecracker use. Chinese New Year activities include the practice of going around to friends and relatives to offer New Year’s greetings on the 1st day of the Chinese New Year, visiting the wife's family on the 2nd day, welcoming the God of Wealth on the 4th day, and reopening business on the 5th day.
In recent years Lunar New Year has lost some of its appeal as parents pinch pennies and Western holidays get bigger. In 2006, AFP reported: “The Lunar New Year holiday is losing its luster in Taiwan as costs and early Western festivities take their toll on the festive atmosphere, a survey showed yesterday. A Chinese-language newspaper's survey said a majority of people believed there was less of a holiday atmosphere this year, while nearly one-fifth were reluctant to celebrate because of financial pressure. [Source: AFP, February 12, 2006]
“Over 75 percent of 806 people polled by the newspaper said the atmosphere was not as pronounced as previous years because the Western New Year holiday was holding more events such as firework displays and outdoor concerts. The Feb. 1 survey found 16 percent disliked the Lunar New Year holiday, which is traditionally the most important holiday in the year. Half the men in this group cited financial reasons for their dislike, saying they had to spend a lot of cash on gifts and red envelopes filled with money. It is customary for people to pay courtesy visits and bring presents to relatives and friends during the holiday. Adults also give red envelopes to children. Many women said they disliked the Lunar New Year because they would become exhausted from cleaning house and preparing elaborate holiday dishes.” [Ibid]
Lantern Festivals in Taiwan
The Lantern festival, which usually falls in late February or early March, is also known as the "little New Year." Aside from the usual worship of the gods, the occasion involves guessing lantern riddles, eating rice-flour dumplings, and releasing lanterns into the sky in New Taipei City’s Pingxi Township. The Yanshui Beehive Rocket Festival in Tainan County is another major event during the Lantern Festival. Colorful lanterns of all sizes and shapes have always been main attractions of the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated with a grand national festival and other major festivals in Taipei and Kaohsiung. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar with a series of activities throughout Taiwan. Among the highlight events at this time is the inspection tour of the deity Master Han Dan in Taitung City. As guardian of the celestial treasury, Master Han Dan is revered today as a God of wealth, but people believe that he was once a real person named Zhao Gong-ming. When the Master Han Dan makes his annual inspection tour of the earthly world, crowds turn out to pray for his blessing and for good fortune. On the day of the festival, Master Han Dan is joined on his tour of the community by gods from, other temples in Taitung and surrounding townships. Households along the route of the divine procession prepare offerings of fresh flowers and fruit, and light strings of firecrackers to welcome the Master Han Dan. The person representing the Master Han Dan on the tour wears only a headscarf, mask and pair of red short. He stands courageously amid the fusillade of firecrackers, protected only by a tree branch. There are several stories as to why the people throw firecrackers at Master Han Dan. In one version, Master Han Dan is the god of hooligans and his power grows with the loudness of the explosions. A less widely accepted explanation is that Master Han Dan is afraid of the cold, so the people throw firecrackers at him to keep him warm and win his blessing.
The Taipei Lantern Festival is held for several days at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall or Sun Yat-sen Memorial and the area in front of City Hall, reaching its peak on the day of the Lantern Festival itself. Large lanterns depict the Chinese zodiac animal of the year, which is the centerpiece of the festival. Traditionally the Taiwan Lantern Festival has been celebrated by carrying hand lanterns. The Taiwan Lantern Festival adds a high-tech touch to this traditional custom and brings the event to the international stage. From the theme lantern displays to folk arts and performances, the festival has become a favorite of both locals and foreign visitors. There are many traditional lanterns, electromechanical lantern displays, and large themed lanterns sponsored and designed by different companies. ~
The Kaohsiung Lantern Festival is held along the Love River. During the festival period, both sides of the river, as well as Wufu Rd., Heping Rd., Guangzhou St., and other thoroughfares, have lantern exhibitions. There are also musical performances, helping to throw the whole city into a festive mood. ~
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is one of the most colorful activities of the Lantern Festival. Pingxi is a remote hillside town. In the past, those who worked or farmed in the mountains faced the risk of being robbed or killed, and they used lanterns to inform their families they were safe. The lanterns do not function as signals anymore, but are now used as symbols of peace and good fortune. The New Taipei City Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival features three huge night events. In 2013, it was named one of the 52 things to do in 2013 by CNN. The 2013 New Taipei City Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival will begin at Jing Tong Elementary School on February 14, then at Pingxi Junior High School on February 17 and Shifen Sky Lantern Square on February 24. Over 4,600 lanterns were launched into the sky.
The first sky lantern event was held on February 14, Valentine's Day. A total of 120 limited sky lanterns were provided for the couples to launch. The second event is about filling the lanterns with dreams. Citizens collected colorful paper from six different places before January 25, In addition, the sky lantern master helped turn the lanterns into mosaics ones by pasting the colorful paper collected by the citizens into the shape of 'I Love TW'. On February 17, citizens launched the lanterns into the sky. The final sky lantern event was on February 24, the day of the traditional Lantern Festival. During that day, at the Shifen Sky Lantern Square, 2,000 sky lanterns were prepared to light up the sky of Pingxi.
Lanterns are released in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan as a form of prayer for good luck. According to elders of Pingxi the tradition began during the Qing dynasty when bands of outlaws frequently raided villages around Pingxi, forcing local residents to seek refuge in the mountains. The lanterns were used as signals by the village watchmen to inform people that their houses were safe again.
Yenshui Firecracker Festival
The Yenshui Firecracker Festival in Yenhsui, held in February or March on the 15th day of the first lunar year features several thousand revelers in the streets with firecrackers. The fireworks display at the God of War Temple in Yanshui, Tainan City, is one of the most popular and anticipated events of the Lantern Festival. The display starts one day before the Lantern Festival, when the deity tours the town in his sedan chair, accompanied by the discharge of firecrackers and bottle rockets. The noise, lights, and rituals that follow the god continue well into the following morning.
Steven Crook wrote in the Taiwan Review, The Fireworks Festival in Yanshui, a small township in Tainan County, originated with a plague expulsion rite in the 1880s that desperate townsfolk organized when their community was being decimated by cholera. These days it is attended mostly by college-age thrill-seekers who come mainly for the fireworks and less to pay their respects to the god Guan Gong, effigies of whom are paraded through the township during the event. [Source: Steven Crook, Taiwan Review, August 2009 \*/]
Tomb Sweeping Day
Tomb Sweeping Day (Ching Ming) on April 5th commemorates the death of Chiang Kai-shek and is a traditional Chinese holiday. At the Merciful Pets Paradise women pray for the deceased pets on Tomb Sweeping Day.
The Tomb Sweeping Festival is a day when Chinese traditionally honor their dead ancestors by visiting their graves and tidying up and sweeping the grave sites. Participants sometimes place flowers on the graves, burn ghost money, and make offerings of fruit, chicken, pork and sometimes beer. In rural areas, tombs are painted, grass is cut and the areas around the graves are swept clean. The holiday also marks the beginning of the busy agricultural season, when the fields are prepared and seeds are planted.
Tomb Sweeping is a recognized holiday in Taiwan and Hong Kong but not on the mainland which as traditionally tried to discourage ancestor worship. The dates of the festival, known in China as the Qingming Festival, or Day of Clear Brightness, are set by the solar calendar rather than by the lunar calendar. In recent years it has become popular to honor the dead online by clicking into “memorial halls” for the dead and lighting virtual candles and joss-sticks and sending flowers and messages. The government has encouraged the practice to reduce air pollution and waste caused by the burning of hell money and funerary objects . Some Internet companies offer “e-Tomb Sweeping.”
Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Races are held in Taipei, Likung, Tainan, Inan, Kaohsiung and the Penghu archipelago in late May or early June (5th day of the 5th lunar month) to commemorate an attempt in 277 B.C. to rescue the drowning patriot poet Chu Yuan. While the boats are racing supporters kick up a racket with firecrackers, horns and gongs accompanied by a parade of Taoist deities and eat jungtzu, dumplings stuffed with glutinous rice.
Together with the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival is one of Taiwan's three major annual traditional holidays. Because of its origins and customs, it is closely related to the remembrance of Qu Yuan, a poet who lived during the Warring States Period. That is why, from ancient times, people have also referred to the Dragon Boat Festival as the" Poet's Festival." [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
At the time of the Dragon Boat Festival, the most common customs are holding dragon boat races and eating glutinous rice dumplings called zongzi. Legend has it that when the poet Qu Yuan jumped to his death in the Miluo River, the local people rowed their boats to and fro in search of him. Later, this practice slowly evolved into the dragon boat races. Today, dragon boat races are a popular activity in Taiwan and abroad, and many local areas in Taiwan hold their own races. Every year, there is also an international dragon boat race with competing teams from Taiwan and abroad. ~
The practice of making zongzi came from the people who tried to save Qu Yuan from being eaten by fish by stuffing rice into bamboo sections and throwing them into the river to feed the fish. Today, the dumplings are wrapped in bamboo leaves and eaten by people. ~
Ghost Month, the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, is celebrated around Taiwan in July and August, with a major festival in Keelung, to placate spirits who visit the mortal world during a "summer vacation" from hell. The celebration includes feasts, performances of Chinese opera and more. Traditionally, it starts from dawn on the first day of the month, when the gates of the netherworld open, and ends on the 29th day of the month, when the gates close. During the festivities of the month, which reach a peak on the 15th day, people hold rituals to solicit salvation from disaster and misfortune.
Ghost Month is widely observed by Chinese in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, according to Reuters, “home to many Taoists and Buddhists, who believe that the living are supposed to please the ghosts by offering them food and burning paper effigies of homes, maids and other daily items for spirits to use in the after-life. For those who maintain these traditional beliefs, all sorts of activities may grind to a halt. In modern but still superstitious Hong Kong, people have begun to wind down their usually frenzied nightlife. "All unusual activities must stop. I have ordered my husband to go straight home after work," said Winnie To, an executive at a foreign company. [Source: Reuters, August 5, 2006]
“In Taiwan, property and car sales usually enter a lull period during the festival, prompting retailers to provide generous offers or discounts to try to boost sales by appealing to the younger generation which is less superstitious. "When we were young, our parents used to tell us not to go to the beach during the "hungry ghosts" festival because they were afraid that we might be captured by ghosts in the water," said Kate Peng, 32, who owns a drinks stall in Taipei. [Ibid]
So much paper money and so many paper objects are burned during Ghost Month in temples and at make shift alters that people worry about its contribution to air pollution. It is estimated that 220,000 tons of paper money is burned in Taiwan every year. Some people have suggested burning paper "credit cards" rather than paper money to reduce air pollution.
Grappling with the Ghosts is a pole-climbing competition held during Ghost Month. In Taiwan, it is carried out only in Toucheng, Yilan County and Hengchun, Pingtung County. Of these two locales, Toucheng has the larger celebration. In the early days, people migrating to Yilan from Guangdong and Fujian provinces were beset by natural disasters, accidents, and diseases, and many of them died. They were afraid that nobody was going to be left alive to make offerings after they were gone, and that their souls would have nowhere to go. Therefore, they held pole-climbing ceremonies to commemorate those who had passed away during the year. Since Toucheng was the first city to be developed in the Yilan area, residents of its eight major districts jointly organize the Universal Salvation ceremony. On the last day of the month - the day when the gates of the netherworld close – they also hold a big Grappling with the Ghosts pole-climbing competition.
Ghost Money in Taiwan
Jim Hwang wrote in the Taiwan Review, “According to local tradition, when the body expires the soul continues to live in the next world, where "residents" still need money for their daily needs. The living prepare the dead to meet their expenses by entombing them with treasure or sending cash to the underworld through the ritual burning of joss money. The burying treasure of gold or jade is not within everyone's means, so since the invention of paper 2,000 years ago, paper objects and joss money have been the most popular, and affordable, substitutes. [Source: Jim Hwang, Taiwan Review, March 2006 ^/^]
“The burning of joss money came to Taiwan with the first Chinese immigrants who crossed the Taiwan Strait. Chang Yi-ming, who has been researching and collecting joss money for 30 years, says that in the early days immigrants relied on supplies from China. Jhunan, in Miaoli County, once a bustling port city, was an important shipping center for the trade in central Taiwan. Yet local residents soon found that shipping was expensive and unreliable, so they started making their own joss money in Jhunan. According to township history, several makers were already in operation in the early 1900s, and the number peaked at more than 380 in the 1970s. "Making joss money was either your day job or your part-time job," Chang recalls. "When the paper was set out to dry in the sun, the town became a sea of gold." ^/^
“The products, in addition to meeting local demand, were exported to Chinese communities all over the world. But, as with other labor-intensive industries, lower labor costs abroad began to lure manufacturers offshore in the 1980s. There are now only a handful of factories, where craftsmen hand-paste silver and gold foil onto imported paper. The market, on the other hand, has always been strong. During the Ghost Festival (the 15th day of the seventh lunar month) in 2005 Kaohsiung burned NT$4 billion (US$120 million) worth of joss money and Jhunan NT$2 billion (US$60 million). Taiwan's total annual consumption of the otherworldly currency is estimated at NT$80 billion (US$2.4 billion). Judging by the size of the current market, people do not seem to fear the consequences of living beyond their means in this world or the next. But if burning joss money really works, would not the amount that Taiwanese have already burned be more than enough to keep everyone from disaster and misfortune? "It all depends if you believe in it," says Chang.” ^/^
Ghost Festival in Keelung
Steven Crook wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Approximately 200,000 people participate in Keelung's Ghost Festival each year, says Wu Zhi-yuan, a spokesman for the city government's Department of Transportation and Tourism. Among them are significant numbers of non-Taiwanese. "We don't have detailed statistics, but on the main day during the 2008 rites the Visitor Information Center at Keelung's train station helped 297 people, of whom 38 were Japanese, 21 were from Hong Kong, and 20 were from North America or Europe." "The Miaokou Night Market does well during the festival, of course," Wu adds. "And according to lodging statistics, hotel occupancy is approximately 10 percent higher [around the festival's climax] than at other times." [Source: Steven Crook, Taiwan Review, August 2009 \*/]
Considering its otherworldly background, Keelung's Mid-Summer Ghost Festival is surprisingly light-hearted. One of the most ancient rituals marked on the Chinese lunar calendar, the Ghost Festival has a mixed Buddhist and Taoist background. The core belief is that each year, on the first day of the seventh lunar month, ghosts emerge from the afterworld. For the next 30 days, they wander the realm of the living. These spirits are greatly feared, and some people avoid swimming, traveling and elective surgery throughout the seventh lunar month. Rituals are conducted and offerings made to placate the troublesome ghosts in Chinese communities around the world. In Keelung, the Zhongyuan Pudu rite marks the middle of the month, the time when the gates of hell are open widest and the danger is greatest.\*/
The Mid-Summer Ghost Festival has had a special resonance in Keelung since 1856, when civic leaders began making sacrifices to honor those who had died in an ethnic clash five years earlier. The custom has been observed ever since. In 1985, the Keelung City Government began sponsoring and guiding the festival, which has been organized by several city associations since its inception. The local government does not provide details about how much has been budgeted to back the event, but reporter Elisa Lim thinks that regardless of the amount, it is probably money well spent: "Keelung is not an attractive city, especially when you compare it to places nearby like Jiufen and Yilan," she says. "However, the Ghost Festival is pretty interesting. It's one of two good reasons to go to Keelung, the Miaokou food bazaar being the other." \*/
“In addition to traditional rites designed to alleviate the suffering of the deceased, the festival features immense quantities of fireworks and parades of trucks bedecked in flowers and flashing lights. The releasing of lanterns onto the water at Badouzi Fishing Harbor is one of the most popular parts of the festival. Because these lanterns are believed to lead ghosts away from human settlements, the further out to sea they float, the better. \*/
“Local schoolchildren perform acrobatics, stilt walking and lion dances during the festival. There are writing competitions, poetry recitals and handicraft displays, and associated musical events range from Taiwanese operas to Mandarin pop acts. And while some might argue that frivolities like sketching contests dilute the festival's sincerity or authenticity, Wu says he has never heard complaints of this kind from local citizens. In fact, he adds, many people have said they hope the festival can incorporate more of these "progressive" aspects. \*/
The Zhongyuan Festival (Chung-Yuan Festival, ot Ghost festival) is held on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar Chinese calender(Ghost Month in July or August. It is a time, Chinese have traditionally believed, when ghost begin their journey back to the real world.
Traditionally, on the day of Zhongyuan Festival every household has to prepare meat, fruit, fresh flowers, and other sacrificial items, which they offer to the “hungry ghosts” at temples or on temporary altar tables set up in front of their homes. They also ask monks to say prayers for their deceased loved ones as well as those lost souls who have no living descendants left on earth. This is known as Zhongyuan Pudu, or Universal Salvation. The ceremonies take place in temples and on streets. On the afternoon of Pudu, local residents prepare offerings and carry them to the main altar at a temple to join in the ceremonies there. For the street festivities, local residents prepare chicken, duck, and fish as offerings in front of their homes in a ceremony known as “doorway worship.” [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
Launching of the Water Lanterns The launching of water lanterns is a longstanding custom. The purpose is to help light the way for the lost souls in the water, call the souls to come on land to enjoy the offerings prepared for them, and pray for the early reincarnation of these souls. It is also said that the further a lantern floats on the water, the better the fortune that the clan it represents will enjoy in the coming year. ~
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also called the Moon Festival, is a holiday celebrated in September or October on a date set by the Chinese lunar calendar with family reunions, moon gazing and the eating of moon cakes. Because this holiday occurs during the autumn, when the harvest season is over, people in earlier days chose this day to make offerings and thank the gods for the bountiful harvest. The celebration has become a time for families to get together. The most familiar myth concerning this festival is that Chang-e flying to the moon after secretly drinking her husband's elixir of life. Aside from this, there are also tales of the Jade Rabbit and of "Wu Gangchopping down the cassia tree." [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
Because most of the activities held on this holiday are related to the moon, it has come to be known as "Moon Day." Important activities at this time include eating moon cakes, which symbolize unity and togetherness; strolling under the full moon; and eating pomelos, since the Chinese term for pomelo sounds like "care and protection." The barbecuing that is so popular in Taiwan on this holiday is a recent custom is in which families and friends get together and enjoy a meal. ~
Barbecue parties have become a main feature of Taiwan's moon festival but environmentalists say they create tonnes of garbage and cause air pollution. In 2008, Associated Press reported: “Several local governments in Taiwan say they are cancelling traditional barbecues at the upcoming moon festival to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yang Hsiao-tung, spokesman for Taipei city government, said the capital will not host its traditional 10,000-person barbecue dinner at a riverside park during the festival next Sunday. Several other local governments and communities announced they will instead serve fried rice or noodles to help reduce carbon emissions. [Source: Associated Press, September 7, 2008]
Hsinchu City International Glass Art Festival
Steven Crook wrote in the Taiwan Review, “ The Hsinchu City International Glass Art Festival was founded in 1995 to showcase the works of domestic and foreign glass artists, provide a venue for artists from different countries to share their experiences and ideas and promote the achievements of the local glass art industry. Since 1999, the Hsinchu Municipal Glass Arts and Crafts Museum has served as the main venue for the biennial festival. The first iteration in 1995 drew almost 200,000 local and international visitors, and the number has increased steadily ever since, with some 370,000 people attending the 65-day event in 2008. Sales of tickets, priced at NT$20 or $10 (US$0.61 or $0.30), reached an overall total of NT$5.34 million (US$161,800) in 2008. [Source: Steven Crook, Taiwan Review, August 2009 \*/]
“Before Hsinchu, a city in northern Taiwan, emerged as a center of high-tech manufacturing, its three most famous products were rice noodles, meatballs and glass. It used to be said that 80 percent of the lights on North American Christmas trees were made in Hsinchu. While the festival is international in scope, Taiwanese glass artists have been given plenty of opportunities to share the stage with their foreign counterparts. At the 2008 International Glass Art Festival, some 50 Taiwan-based artists contributed 61 pieces. \*/
Over the years, the International Glass Art Festival has also featured some striking collaborations between foreign and local artists, such as 1999's Jail of Glass, which was designed by Stephanie Juenemann and Ralf Schmitt of Germany. A replica of a prison cell, complete with a prisoner's meager possessions, Hsinchu craftsmen constructed it based on Juenemann and Schmitt's design, cutting its parts with lasers and by hand. \*/
"Everyone knows that Taiwan's education system doesn't encourage creativity that much," says Leanne Hou, a vocational high-school art teacher in Tainan County who has taken groups of her students to the last three glass festivals. "That's why it's very important for our youngsters to see what other Taiwanese have achieved. I know it inspires them." \*/
“The annual Hsinchu City Glass Art Street Carnival, on the other hand, places the spotlight squarely on local glass artists. This year's event, which kicked off on January 16, one week before the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday, featured 48 well-known glass artists displaying works featuring the ox, as this is the Year of the Ox according to the Chinese zodiac. Many pieces based on the ox theme were available for purchase, and visitors received discount coupons to encourage them to do so. The carnival also provides a good opportunity to experience a bit of local color, as it includes outdoor arts performances such as dance and drama, street food and parent-child activities. \*/
Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage
The Birthday of Mazu (Matsu, the Goddess of the Sea) is celebrated in late April, early May at Chaotien Temple, Peikang (central Taiwan), other temples in Taiwan and in Taipei with parades of idols, lion dances, operas, and temple rituals. The festival at Peikang it is a riotous affair with masked revelers dodging firecrackers while bearing replicas of the Mazu.
Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, migrated to Taiwan with the people of Fujian Province in the 17th century to become one of the most revered deities on the island, where today about 870 temples are dedicated to her worship. Mazu's birthday falls in the third month of the Chinese lunar calendar, and at that time temples all over the island hold birthday activities including the burning of incense and tours of the deities around their domains. Some of the largest of the celebrations take place at Dajia’s Zhenlan Temple in Taichung City, Lugang’s Tianhou Temple in Changhua County, Chaotian Temple in Yunlin County, Datianhou Temple in Tainan City, and Fengtian Temple in Chiayi County. Zhenlan Temple’s is the largest celebration of all, and also has the longest history. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
The pilgrimage from Dajia's Zhenlan Temple takes place during the third month of the Chinese lunar calendar, around the time of Mazu’s birthday. All sorts of festive activities are arranged at this time, including puppetsand theater performances, displays of embroidered banners, float parades, dragon and lion dances, and other events as the procession passes by. The eight-day procession passes through Changhua and Yunlin counties, and terminates at Fengtian Temple in Xingang, Chiayi County. Many devotees walk the whole trip. ~
The Mazu image which the pilgrims carry along with them is warmly welcomed at Fengtian Temple. The devotees prepare meat, fruit, and vegetables as offerings; firecrackers are discharged, and incense is burned. Another climax of the activities occurs when Mazu returns home to Dajia in her palanquin; along the route, one can see hundreds of thousands of devotees holding parties for friends, relatives, and the returning pilgrims. ~
Neimen Songjiang Battle Array
In Taiwan, the traditional Songjiang Battle Array is active in Kaohsiung City, with a large number of battle array groups in Dashu District and Neimen District; in terms of related temple activities, however, Neimen District occupies a central place in the Songjiang Battle Array in Taiwan. Originally known as "Luohanmen," Neimen has a population of less than 30,000, but there are 15 Songjiang Battle Array groups in the township. This is due largely to the dedication of the temple committees of Neimen’s Zizhu Temple and Nanhai’s Zizhu Temple keeping keeping this colorful tradition alive and bringing it to the international stage. The original Songjiang Battle Array was composed of 108 heroes who were said to be transformed from the 36 Tiangang star gods and 72 Disha star gods. Today, the Songjiang Battle Array is generally composed of 36 members. The reduced size is due to social changes in Taiwan and the belief that 108 is an inauspicious number. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
Origins of the Songjiang Battle Array: 1) Some people trace the origins of the battle array to Song Jiang, a fictional bandit in the Song novel The Water Margin, otherwise known as All Men Are Brothers. According to this view, Song Jiang developed this type of martial art, with a focus on formation and a lesser emphasis on individual fighting, to train his followers for combat. The battle array is said to have been formed of 36 Tiangang star gods and 72 Disha star gods. 2) Another version is that the battle array is a boxing branch of the Shaolin School of martial arts handed down from the period of the Shaolin Shantao boxing, lion formation, and sword lion formation. ~
3) Some people believe that the Songjiang Battle Array in Taiwan was a type of training used by Zheng Cheng-gong (Koxinga) to prepare his troops to defend the coastal areas of Taiwan during the late Ming Dynasty. At that time, Song Jiang had a deep influence on popular respect for morally courageous revolutionaries. In their campaign to overthrow the Qing government and restore the Ming Dynasty, Zheng Cheng-gong and his army from Fujian were compared to the heroes of Liangshan (Liang Mountain) Marsh of The Water Margin. The martial arts skills used by the army became the prototype of the Songjiang Battle Array. ~
Steven Crook wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Each spring, visitors--and their dollars--flood into Neimen Township in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan for the week-long Songjiang Battle Array. "The Songjiang Battle Array is the most important and lively festival in Kaohsiung County," says Sun Chun-liang, section chief of the marketing branch of the county government's Department of Tourism. "It's a celebration of Guanyin's [a compassionate bodhisattva] birthday, and the battle array performances in front of the temple are a way of honoring the gods. What's more, the battle array has a protective function--to exorcise evil spirits from the borders of Neimen Township." [Source: Steven Crook, Taiwan Review, August 2009 \*/]
“A typical battle array group features a leader who directs his or her 36- or 72-member team with a flag, leading them through different formations to the accompaniment of drums, gongs and cymbals. The Neimen battle array is so old its origins are unclear. Some believe the tradition dates from the late 17th century, when soldiers who had accompanied Koxinga--the Ming dynasty loyalist who evicted the Dutch from Tainan--settled in the countryside. When not busy farming, they practiced fighting skills to prepare for defending against aboriginal raids or clan strife. Others think the battle array could be a case of life imitating art, a pastime inspired by The Water Margin, one of the four great novels in classical Chinese literature. \*/
“More than a dozen other communities in southwest Taiwan have battle array traditions, but Neimen's is by far the strongest. Some attribute this to the township's remoteness, arguing that before the automobile era, few other ideas or customs were able to find a footing and displace the battle array as a focus of community life. Others think the Neimen festival's strength may be a result of the township's erstwhile position on the front line between Han settlers and aboriginal tribes. \*/
According to Gao Jiu-ya, a senior clerk in the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Kaohsiung County Government, each year around 200,000 people go to Neimen, which has fewer than 17,000 residents, to see the battle array. Each visitor spends an average of NT$500 (US$15) on snacks and souvenirs, she says. Zhang Mei-ling, a vendor of stinky tofu near Neimen's Zizhu Temple, thinks that the local government's estimate of NT$500 per visitor is too high, but adds, "For me, one day during the battle array is better than a week at other times." \*/
The Kaohsiung County Government has made a conscious effort to broaden the battle array's appeal, in part by launching the annual Creative Songjiang Battle Array College Cup in 2005. The participants in the cup are encouraged to come up with their own creative "battle formations" and are free to innovate so long as their performances uphold the core principles of the battle array: defense of one's homeland, communal drilling to build up strength, loyalty, mutual support and derring-do. As any kind of music can be used and props other than weapons are acceptable, recent College Cups have seen tap dancing, hip-hop and cheerleading formations. \*/
Burning of the Plague God Boat in Donggang
Every three years usually in October local residents at Tungkang in southern Taiwan burn a Wang Yeh boat during a festival to pray for good fortune for fishermen. Taiwanese fishermen believe burning the boat will comfort the souls of victims who die at sea and bring good fortune. According to the BBC: “Taoist festivals don't get much bigger, brighter or more spectacular than Taiwan's Burning of the Wang Yeh Boats. Every three years in October or November, the southern port town of Donggang feasts and fetes a handful of Chinese gods for nine days before sending them off to heaven in a fiery blaze aboard a Chinese junk.”
The burning of the plague god boat is a folk ritual practiced by fishermen in southwestern Taiwan. The original purpose of this ritual was to send the Plague God out to the sea, taking disease and pestilence along with him. Today, it has become an activity whose purpose is to solicit peace and good fortune. In Donggang, Pingtung County, the festival is held once every three years, around the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, at Donglong Temple. There is also another festival, held in the middle of the fourth month, at Qing’an Temple in Xigang, Tainan County. Generally, the Donggang event is larger. These celebrations include large-scale temple activities which climax with the burning of the plague god boat on the last day. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
The Donggang boat-burning celebration runs for eight days and seven nights. According to custom, first the boat is set on fire by devotees as other participants prepare goods for the symbolic trip. Then a big fire is made--to force any bad spirits and the Plague God to go aboard)--and the boat is funally burned as the devotees pray for peace. ~
Kunshen Wangye's Salt for Peace Festival
The salt industry enjoys a long history along the southwest coast of Taiwan, dating back to the Ming and early Qing dynasties. The industry was based on solar evaporation of seawater using complex and highly skilled techniques, and it was one of Taiwan's biggest industries for nearly 340 years. It contributed significantly to the country's economic development and provided an essential product for the people's daily life. Although Taiwan has not been a major salt producer since 2002, the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area Administration maintains a traditional working salt field to preserve the history of this important industry in Taiwan. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
Late fall to early winter is the best season for observing sea-salt production, thanks to strong coastal winds and scarce rainfall. Several salt-themed activities are held at this time, including the Kunshen Wangye's Salt for Peace Festival at Nankunshen’s Daitian Temple and in Beimen, a center of the traditional salt industry. These events take visitors back to an earlier time when salt was the spice of life on the southwest coast of Taiwan.
Minority Festivals in Taiwan
The customs and traditions of Taiwan's indigenous people, such as the Harvest Festival (Smatto), the Worship of Hunting (Mabuasu), spiritual rituals, totemism, and snake worship, give an extra dimension to Taiwan's culture. The indigenous tribes of Taiwan form the most northern branch of the Austronesia language group, and ethnically belong to the Malay race. Most indigenous tribes have retreated into the mountains; but although many are faced with assimilation, still some 14 different tribes that have their own languages, traditions, and tribal structure can be distinguished: the Amis, the Atayal, the Paiwan, the Bunun, the Puyuma, the Rukai, the Tsou, the Saisiyat, Yami, the Thao, the Kavalan, the Truku, the Sakizaya, and the Sediq. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]
The Mayasvi is the holiest of all the religious ceremonies of the Tsou tribe. In the early years, it was held before a battle or hunt; today, it is held annually in February and is alternately organized by the communities of Dabang and Tefuye in Chiayi County. The ceremony is held at the tribal gathering house for men (Kupah). The tribe's war ceremony includes the rites of triumph, rites for the heads of the enemies, and welcoming rites for the gods. ~
The Ear-shooting Festival is the most important celebration of the Bunun people. Held atfrom the end of the April andto the beginning of the May, the celebration is divided into sowing rites, hunting rites, and ear-shooting rites; pig roasting, apportioning the meat, and storing the meat; work celebrations, witch inductions, and other major activities. The traditional ear-shooting ceremony starts well before the celebration itself when the young men of the tribe go into the mountains and hunt. Then they cut off the ears of their kills, sticking the ears on a pole or a tree branch for the village men to shoot with arrows. Little children, accompanied by their fathers and older brothers, also practice shooting arrows, hoping that this will enable them to become good hunters. ~
The Sacrifice to the Short Spirits is the most important traditional rite of the Saisiyat tribe, with a smaller ceremony every two years and a large one every 10 years. The festival is held around the 15th day of the 10th lunar month, at the end of the harvest season, and lasts for four days and three nights. The first day of the festival starts with welcoming of the spirits, when tribal elders offer wine and meat and then, facing to the east, pray to welcome the Short Spirits. The second day is for entertaining the spirits, which is the centerpiece of the entire festival. The tribespeople engage in festivities and dancing to commemorate the Short Spirits. On the last day, rites for sending off the spirits off are performed. At the appropriate time, the tribes throw sheaves of grass and hazelwood sticks toward the east, signifying that the Short Spirits have already departed. After that, the rice wine, pork, and rice cakes that were offered to the spirits are given to the participants, bringing the festival to an end. ~
The Monkey Ceremony and Hunting Ceremony are together referred to as the Annual Festival of the Puyuma tribe. The Puyuma were traditionally the most warlike of Taiwan's indigenous peoples. Every year toward the end of December, the tribe holds the Monkey Ceremony, a unique ritual that serves as a rite of passage that marks the entry of tribal boys into adulthood. Many call it the Monkey Piercing Ceremony as young men of the tribe go through a series of strict trials, the most important of which is the piercing of a monkey (today, the monkey is made of straw) with a bamboo staff. This is thought to build courage and cooperation among the young people. Participants have to complete four levels of trials, after which they are allowed to take part in the hunting ceremony. This requires a young boy to be able to hunt down a wild animal within five days. After this, the young boy is considered a man eligible for marriage. ~
The lives of the Yami (sometimes called Tao) people are closely intertwined with the Flying Fish Festival. Each year the flying fish come with the Kuroshio Current from January to June, and this brings a rich harvest of fish for the Yami living on Orchid Island. That is why the tribepeople believe that these fish are gifts from the gods, and why they treasure this natural resource. Some of the tribe's social customs and taboos are also closely associated with the coming and going of the flying fish. The Flying Fish Festival consists of ceremonies that begin in the second or third month of the lunar calendar and run for approximately four months. The festival is divided into different parts, including the blessing of the boats, praying for a bountiful catch, summoning the fish, first-fishing night ceremony, fish storing ceremony, and fishing cessation ceremony. The men of the tribe wear loincloths, silver helmets, and gold strips, and face the sea to pray for a bountiful catch. Participation is restricted to men. ~
The Harvest Festival is the largest festival of the Amis tribe. Different villages hold separate festivals during July and August; the festival has three stages, including welcoming the spirits, feasting the spirits, and sending the spirits off. In modern times, the ceremony has been shortened and the religious ceremonies simplified. Several activities have been added, including a race, tug-of-war, and arrow shooting competition. The festivities, once limited to tribal participation, are now open to the general public. ~
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015