Taiwan Lantern Festival – Sending Wishes to the Sky

The lighting of Kongming lanterns, also known as sky lanterns, has been a popular tradition for centuries throughout most of Asia. Like a hot air balloon, the lantern is propelled by a small flame that guides it up towards the sky during the Taiwan Lantern Festival each year.

Taiwan Lantern Festival 

In Taiwan, lighting Kongming lanterns is especially popular during the Lunar New Year holiday. The locals believe that these lanterns carry their prayers to the sky to bring them a fruitful and fortunate new year.

In Pingxi, there is an annual festival where thousands of lanterns are floated into the sky together. It is said that the floating lights resemble a constellation of stars as the lanterns flicker and float away into the night sky.

Though watching thousands of lanterns fly into the sky together is a majestic site, fighting the crowds and getting to Pingxi can be a bit of a hassle. It takes some advance planning.

Personally, I would advise getting a hotel in Pingxi if you decide to go, otherwise it can be challenging getting back to Taipei after the festivities end.

If you are like me and prefer a more relaxing way of doing things, then I suggest visiting Shifen, just three train stop before Pingxi to send your lantern of hopes and dreams skyward.

Lighting lanterns is available at all times of the year, so you don’t have to wait until the new year festivities to have this special, memorable experience.

As soon as you exit the train at Shifen station, you will be in the heart of the charming old street. Shops selling souvenirs, Taiwanese sausages and other delicacies, and artisan crafts stalls fill the market along the tracks.

If you walk beyond the train tracks, you can visit the stunning and magnificent Shifen Waterfall, which is just a 15-minute walk from the town’s center.

Signs mark the waterfall trail, so it is easy to find upon arrival.

There are many shops selling the Konming lanterns in the market area. The train passes by every 30 minutes, so during this time gap, people go onto the tracks to send their lanterns into the sky. Before sending the lanterns up and away, you can decorate your lantern using a traditional Chinese paint brush and black ink.

The shops provide an easel-like stand to paint the lantern on the side of the train track. You are free to express yourself in anyway that you wish.  Some people paint pictures, others write a message, and some traditionally write their prayers or wishes.

When I visited Shifen, I traveled with my brother, so we set up the stand in a way where we could not see what the other was paining until we were finished. It was amusing how differently we interpreted what to do with the lantern. Sending the lantern into the sky was a joyful moment, and it will be a memory I cherish for a long time.

In order to go to either Shifen or Pingxi, take the northbound train from Taipei Main station to Ruifang station.  Make sure not to take the Keelung northbound train.

Once you arrive at Ruifang station, you will transfer to the Pingxi Line. Shifen is only three stops down, while Pingxi is a total of six stops. Overall the trip takes about an hour and half, maybe two hours if you have to wait for the trains.

Honouring Our Ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day

Every year on April 5, Taiwan honours its dead with a special festival. The festival is called Qingming, but it is often referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day. In Mandarin, Qingming is roughly translated to “Pure Brightness Festival,” and the day is intended for people to go outside and enjoy the spring weather while paying respects to their ancestors.

On Tomb Sweeping Day, the people of Taiwan traditionally go on family outings to visit the graves of their departed relatives. The families will usually pray at each grave site before sweeping and cleaning the grave as a sign of respect. Some families will even sing and dance at the gravesites and offer food and wine to the deceased.

Willow branches are a very common sight on Tomb Sweeping Day. It is believed that willow branches will fend off the evil spirits that roam around on Qingming. As such, people will carry willow branches with them, and some will even hang the branches from their front doors.

Another Qingming tradition you’re sure to come by is a bite-sized snack called caozaiguo. Caozaiguo consists of sweet dough made with rice flour, sugar and East Asian herbs that give the snack a green colour. The dough is then usually filled with ground meat or bean paste.

Tomb Sweeping Holiday-1988

Since 1975, Tomb Sweeping Day has always been observed in Taiwan on April 5, in order to honour the death of Chiang Kai-Shek, a Chinese political leader who ruled Taiwan for 30 years. Chiang’s legacy is the subject of much debate in Taiwan, but Tomb Sweeping Day is still recognized every year on the anniversary of his death.

For Canadians in Taiwan that are looking to take part in the festival, the Danshui Foreign Cemetery in Taipei is the perfect place to go.

Many Canadians are buried in the cemetery, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has been maintaining the grounds every Tomb Sweeping Day since 1984. Don’t miss your chance to take part in this unique and meaningful festival!

Celebrating Ghost Month in Taiwan

Throughout the month of August, residents of Taiwan are burning paper money and worshipping at their local temples and on the streets to feed the hungry ghosts of Taiwan.

This festival is called Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节), which is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. It traditionally falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated for a month, and it is usually held during the month of August.
The Ghost Festival: lion dance

During this celebration, Taiwanese people believe that the gates of hell are open and hungry ghosts go out from netherworld to look for food.

The original customs of this festival came from Mainland China, but it also celebrated by other Buddhist Asian countries. The customs and beliefs that are celebrated in Taiwan, however, differ from other countries slightly. For one, it is very common for people to burn joss papers, which is a type of currency for the dead. They believe that by offering joss paper, the dead will be able to purchase whatever they need in the afterlife, thus ensuring that they do not come back to the land of the living for their valuables.

During August, but also on other special dates throughout the year, it’s very common to see families and places of business and worship offering fresh fruits vegetables, snacks and drinks on tables in front of their homes and businesses. Elaborate meals are prepared with empty seats at the table for each deceased relative within family. These foods are meant to appease the ghosts and it is believed that food will sustain them during their long journey back to the underworld.

Along with food offerings, traditional concerts and shows are often held for the ghosts’ viewing pleasure. Traditionally, during these concerts, the first row of chairs is always left empty for the spirits. It is believed that if you sit in one of these seats, you are inviting a spirit to come and possess you. So please be aware of where you are sitting during these ceremonies!

On the 14th day, in Taiwan, candles and lotus flowers are placed in lanterns that float on water. The Taiwanese believe that ghosts can find way back to hell through these floating lanterns.

Taiwanese cities such as Keelung in the north, Toucheng on the East Coast, and Hengchun in the southern part of Taiwan, are all well known throughout Taiwan for their elaborate Ghost Festival celebrations.

The customs and rituals that are celebrated during Ghost Month are meant to keep the ghosts happy, but that is not the only reason why this festival is celebrated in Taiwan. Celebrating Ghost Month in Taiwan and ensuring that the ghosts of Taiwan are treated with respect ensures that you and your family will have great luck in the year to come.

About the Author

Bilguun NamsraiBilguun Namsrai is a Mongolian student who has been studying in Taipei, Taiwan since 2012. She completed her final year of undergraduate in capital city of Mongolia where she studied International Law. Currently, she is a senior graduate journalism student at Chinese Culture University.

While studying, Bilguun has always had an interest in law and journalism field. Upon graduation, Bilguun is looking to start her career as a news reporter, anchor in broadcasting channels, or as a contract lawyer. She is a member of the Foreign Students Club in Taiwan.

Resource list

www.oncekids.blogspot.com
www.taiwanese-secrets.com
http://city543.com/

Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan

The Taiwanese celebrate the same traditional festivals as the Chinese do in Mainland China. The Dragon Boat Festival in Chinese tradition is considered an important holiday. It began around 2,000 years ago in the southern part of China. According to the Chinese Lunar calendar, the dragon boat holiday takes place on the 5th day of the 5th month.

Depending on the lunar calendar, the date changes to different days every year. In 2015, the Dragon Boat Festival will take place on the 20th of June.

The boat races during the Dragon Boat Festival are traditional customs related to ancient history in China. The Dragon has a very symbolic meaning for the Chinese people. Traditionally, the dragon symbolizes strength and power. In particular, people in China believe that the dragon controls water, rainfall, hurricanes, floods and also commands the wind.

During the festivities people eat zhongzi, (Chinese 粽子) which is sticky rice wrapped in bamboo. It’s the most popular traditional food on Dragon Boat day. Zongzi (Rice Dumplings)
There are many different types of zhongzi with different flavors in Taiwan.

Besides eating zhongzi, children also wear perfume pouches. It is an ancient belief that perfume pouches protect children from evil spirits. So during this festival day, parents decorate their children with pouches. Nowadays, these perfume pouch is designed in various style and colors.

Another special custom is hanging mugwort leaves and calamus at the top of a door of one’s home. Since the Dragon Boat Festival is held during the summer, having mugwort and calamus is especially useful. People believe that the aroma of calamus and mugwort can repel insects.

In Taiwan, the main and most important activity on this day is boat-racing competitions between colleagues and friends.

Have you ever wondered why the dragon boat festival is celebrated or how it came about? There are a lot myths related to the dragon boat festival day. The most famous myth is related to one famous patriotic poet.

Popular myth: Commemorating the Legend of Qu Yuan

A long time ago, there was a famous poet and minister named Qu Yuan. He lived in the State of Chu (Hubei Province, China) from 340- 278BC. Qu Yuan was a member of the Chu family and he served as an official minister to King Huai of Chu.

Qu Yuan was exiled from the State of Chu for a crime he did not commit. He was reinstated by King Huai and sent on a diplomatic mission to the State of Qi to try and repair the strained relationship between the reigning kings of Chu and Qi. He was not successful.

In protest against the corruption of his beloved home state, the great poet committed ritual suicide by holding a rock and wading into the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Qu Yuan, who was loved by the people of his state, searched frantically for his body in the deep waters of the river, but they were unable to find him. They launched boats into the water and threw bunches of rice into the river to feed the fishes. They believed that Qu Yuan’s body would not be eaten if the fishes were full. This is one of the reasons why people celebrate Dragon Boat Festival and why they eat zhongzi.

Bilguun NamsraiAbout the Author
Bilguun Namsrai is a Mongolian student who has been studying in Taipei, Taiwan since 2012. She completed her final year of undergraduate in capital city of Mongolia where she studied International Law. Currently, she is a senior graduate journalism student at Chinese Culture University.

While studying, Bilguun has always had an interest in law and journalism field. Upon graduation, Bilguun is looking to start her career as a news reporter, anchor in broadcasting channels, or as a contract lawyer. She is a member of the Foreign Students Club in Taiwan.