Keelung is one of Taiwan’s major port cities and is found in the northeast corner of the island. The Ghost Festival is celebrated annually in Keelung on the 15th night of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. These activities have been celebrated since 1855 and are now well known as one of Taiwan’s must-see folk events (a large cruise ship from Nassau was docked in the harbor so it seems this festival is gaining international recognition as well). According to Chinese tradition, the Ghost Festival is one of three major festivals that pay homage to your ancestors (something akin to Halloween in western countries). It’s believed that at the beginning of the 7th month, the gates to the spirit world open and all the spirits are released back into the human world. The spirits linger for the entire 7th month before returning threw the gates.
“This tradition is said to originate from the Buddhist Ullambana. According to Ullambana scriptures, the mother of one of Buddha’s disciples had been condemned to eternal torture and salvation as punishment for the sins she committed on earth. The disciple traveled to the depths of hell to offer his mother food, but it all vanished before reaching her mouth. The disciple turned to Buddha for help, who advised him to prepare more food for the monks so that they would aid him in the rescue of his mother and other long-suffering souls. This tradition has been carried through Buddhist societies and is the reason the Taiwanese prepare food and festivities for the dead during this month.” (formosatravel.net)
The festival spans both Buddhist and Taoist religions with people setting up tables outside temples, homes and businesses and placing small offerings of food for both their ancestors and unknown wandering souls. You will also see many people burning paper money in small bins near the street and, on a larger scale, you will see lanterns in the shape of houses, TVs and cars being burned as well. If the spirits are appeased, the people will receive good fortune for the coming year.
Getting there from Taipei is rather easy and the parade is centrally located. Some streets are blocked off at dusk so if your hotel is close to the parade route, you may have trouble getting in or out. Once the parade finishes (around 10pm) everyone starts moving up the coast highway to a small port 20 minutes outside the city. This is where, at midnight, the lanterns are set on fire and released into the ocean.
For more information:
Taiwan: The Heart of Asia