Throughout the year, the Asian island nation of Taiwan plays host to a number of exciting festivals and events paying testament to the island’s rich and diverse culture. A fusion of Chinese, Fujianese, Hakka, Cantonese and various aboriginal cultures, Taiwan has an array of annual celebrations like the Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and the Ghost Festival. Twelve aboriginal tribes remain: the Saisiyat, Atayal, Ami, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Paiwan, Tao, Sao, Taroko, Kemalan and the Zou. They celebrate the Ami Harvest Festival, Bunun Ear-shooting Festival and the Yami Flying Fish Festival among many others. These events fall according to the Lunar or Gregorian calendars. Visit www.taiwan.net.tw or www.go2taiwan.net for exact dates and more information.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY

Chinese New Year
The country’s most important holiday, the three-day Chinese New Year is observed throughout Taiwan on the first day of the first moon or first lunar month. Traditionally the Taiwanese offer sacrifices to the gods to encourage a successful and prosperous New Year. This is the time to get rid of the old and welcome the new. Houses are cleaned, debts are cleared and disputes are resolved. Street parties, fireworks and music add to the festivities. Many Taiwanese take time off to travel. Young children receive presents in red envelopes. (January 29, 2006)

Taipei Lantern Festival
Coming on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year festivities. Families celebrate by hanging colorful lanterns, eating tang yuan, a sweet rice dumpling soup and playing lantern riddle games. While celebrations are held throughout the country, more than one million flock to the capital’s Taipei Lantern Festival held in the area surrounding the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The three-day festival – one of Taiwan’s most colourful – features fireworks, acrobats and floats as well as processions led by local children carrying hand-held lanterns. The evening culminates with all the hand-held lanterns – depicting the zodiac animal of the newly arrived year – being dispatched into the sky. (February 12, 2006-Year of the Dog)

MARCH/APRIL

Song Jiang Battle Array, Neimen, Kaohsiung County
One of Taiwan’s oldest festivals, the Battle Array in Neimen, features ceremonies dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). During those times, martial arts groups were formed to protect the township of Neimen and KuanYin, the Goddess of Mercy from pillaging bandits. Throughout the festival, today’s “warriors” carry a statue of KuanYin through the village to the sound of drum beats.
Yami Flying Fish Festival, Orchid Island

A stunning outpost off Taiwan’s eastern coast, Orchid Island is home to the rich and unique culture of the Yami (also known as Tao) aboriginal tribe. The Yami continue to maintain their traditional culture and lifestyle with many living in semi-subterranean stone houses to avoid the heat of summer, the chill of winter and frequent typhoons. Every year the islanders greet the arrival of the fishing season by celebrating the Flying Fish Festival offering visitors a rare glimpse inside this fascinating culture. New boats – distinctive hand-carved canoes in white, red and black reminiscent of South Pacific pirogues – are launched into the ocean by Yami men in loincloths.

APRIL/MAY

Mazu, ‘Goddess of the sea’ Parade, throughout Taiwan
Mazu (or Matsu) the ‘Goddess of the Sea’ is worshipped throughout Taiwan, particularly by fisherman and villagers in coastal areas, on the 23rd day of the third lunar month. Hundreds of years ago as they departed China to travel across the treacherous Taiwan Strait, the Han Chinese would pray to the goddess for a safe journey across the waters. During the eight-day festival a large statue of the goddess is paraded through towns across the island with celebration at some 400 temples accompanied by firecrackers and pounding drums. Over a million people, participate in the ceremonies which are highlighted by dragon and lion dances. (April 20, 2006)

Bunan Ear-shooting Festival
From April to May, the Bunan aboriginal tribe holds the annual Ear-shooting Festival. The tribe’s famed hunters gather the ears of wild boar, deer and other animals they have stalked hanging them up in trees as offerings to thank the spirits. The hunters sing a rousing chorus of “Praying for a Millet Harvest” during the festivities.

God of Medicine Culture Festival, Tainan
Wu Pen, an ancient Chinese healer born in 980 A.D., trained as a teenager with the Taoist Queen of the West learning to defeat demons and heal the sick. Wu Pen’s memory was immortalized as Emperor Bao Sheng and is honored in an annual parade along the banks of the General Chiang Chun River in Tainan. Floats are decorated with wild flowers and lion dances are performed along the riverbanks.

Tomb Sweeping Festival
The Tomb Sweeping Festival or Ching Ming Festival coincides with the anniversary of the death of President Chiang Kai-shek. Relatives gather during the festival to honour the memory of their ancestors. Offerings – gold and colored slips of sacrificial “paper money” – are placed on the graves and burned in the belief that the smoke will carry the essence of the money to the ancestors in the spirit world. (April 5, 2006)

Cleansing of the Buddha
Throughout Taiwan, Buddhists commemorate the birth of Sakyamuni, Lord Buddha, whose statue is enshrined at the Chung Tai Monastery. Monasteries throughout the island mark the anniversary by ritually cleansing Buddhist relics to wash away sins.

The Dragon Boat Racing Festival
The origin of dragon boat racing is steeped in history. The races re-enact the story of a revered Chinese poet, Chu Yuan, who drowned himself on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month after losing the favour of King Chu. The villagers set out to rescue the poet in their dragon boats but were unsuccessful in their attempts. Today long, beautifully-decorated dragon boats, each with a crew of expert oarsmen, race for local and national titles. The Taiwanese drink wine; eat rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and hang pomanders from their children to ward off evil spirits. (May 31, 2006)

JUNE-SEPTEMBER

The Ghost Festival
According to ancient Taoist and Buddhist beliefs, the gates of Hades open wide on the first day of the seventh lunar month, when the Taiwanese welcome the spirits of the dead for 30 days of feasting and revelry. On the 15th day, which is known as the Ghost Festival, huge sacrificial feasts of pork, chicken, fish and wine are set out in temple courtyards to appease any wandering ghosts. Lanterns are hung to guide the ghosts to the table. Taiwanese operas are performed to entertain them, fake paper money is burned to please them and lanterns are floated on lakes and streams to lead them to heaven. In Keelung, 30 minutes north of Taipei, hundreds of water lanterns are set ablaze and released into the harbor, to slowly drift out to the open sea, lighting the way to paradise. (July 31, 2006)

Sun Moon Lake Swimming Carnival
Nestled in the western foothills of Taiwan’s Central Range, the turquoise jewel of Sun Moon Lake is one of the country’s premier scenic attractions with temples and a pagoda dotting its shores. Every September or October, thousands of people swim across the sacred waters during the Sun Moon Lake Swimming Carnival and running concurrently, the Fireworks Festival features brilliant displays that light up the night sky.

Ami Harvest Festival, Taitung County
The largest of Taiwan’s nine indigenous mountain tribes, the Ami inhabit the island’s east coast from Hualien to Taitung. During the August Harvest Festival, the Ami perform traditional dances and songs in native costumes. As dawn breaks, the younger men of the tribe ride around the village and signal the start of the festival, or “Misahafai.”

Confucius’ Birthday
In September the Taiwanese celebrate the anniversary of Confucius’ birth (551 B.C.) Viewed as one of the most influential men in Chinese history, Confucius lectured on the pursuit of self-enlightenment and discussed the Five Virtues of Life: charity, justice, wisdom, loyalty and propriety. Traditional dances are performed at local Confucius temples throughout Taiwan during this national holiday.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER

Moon Festival
The Moon Festival, which represents the unity of family and friends is said to have originated from ancient Chinese ceremonies featuring sacrifices to the Moon Goddess. During this festival on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, families and friends attend moon-gazing events – with spectacular fireworks – and pray for a prosperous and safe year to come. Round moon cakes, semi-sweet pastries filled with red bean or lotus seed paste, are served or given to relatives as an expression of good wishes. (October 6, 2006)

Double 10th National Day
The National Day of Taiwan – so named because it falls on the tenth day of the tenth month – is celebrated annually around the island. It marks the overthrow of China’s last dynasty on October 10th 1911 and celebrates the founding of the Republic of China. Dragon and lion dances, speeches and poetry readings mark this important holiday.

Hualien Stone Culture Festival
One of the world’s leading producers of marble, Hualein is also the gateway to one of the country’s top scenic attractions, the four-million-year-old Taroko Gorge. This annual festival celebrates the contribution of the Ami tribe – who inhabit the mountainous and coastal areas of the island – to the art of stone and marble carving.

Rukai Black Rice Festival, Dwona, Maolin County
The Dwona tribe is one of the oldest aboriginal groups in Taiwan. The festival re-enacts the myth of the Water God who snatched a child while its mother worked in the fields. The God promised to raise the child only if the mother shared her crops. During the festival lovers exchange bunches of dried millet crops, much like a bouquet of roses to symbolise their love for each other.

For further information about cultural events and festivals in Taiwan please visit
www.taiwan.net.tw or www.go2taiwan.net.

For more on Taiwan at ITKT