Taiwan’s “Ghost Month” falls between August 3rd and September 1st this year, and although it may sound terrifying, the ceremonies and cultural festivals that take place at this time make it a very special time to visit.
Legend has it that, the gates of hell open on the first day of the Lunar month and close on the last. So everyone is a little on edge during this time. Tradition also requires that the word “ghost” is never spoken during this month, and the spirits are referred to as “good brothers.”
The seventh month in the Taiwanese lunar calendar is the “Ghost Month,” a time when spirits of the dead wander the Earth. The festivals, rituals, athletic feats and elaborate banquets held at this time are aimed at appeasing the spirits. For example, visitors to Taiwan will see huge banquets laid out on tables in the open air – but only ghostly diners are invited. Normal food is said to turn to fire on the lips of ghosts, so they are offered special foods prepared while reciting sutras. This food is laid out on long tables, sometimes with individual settings. No one will sit down to eat. However, when priests have ascertained through divination that the ghosts are full, local people will take the food home.
There are two ceremonies during “Ghost Month” which are unique to Taiwan:
In the fishing community of Bisha near Keelung City on Taiwan’s northeast coast, beautifully lit lanterns are paraded through the city’s streets on decorated floats, when night falls, the people quietly launch floating lanterns onto the sea. This year this traditional mid-summer ceremony will take place on August 18th in Keelung City.
The second is the Grappling with Ghosts event held at Toucheng in Yilan County. Here teams of young men compete to climb greased tree trunks, swing themselves over an elevated platform, and then scramble up bamboo lattices to be the first to cut down a flag. In addition to winning the town’s admiration and cash prizes, the winners sell the flags to fishing boat captains who believe they will protect their boats and crew in the year to come. This exciting event takes place during the last three days of “Ghost Month”.
The “Ghost Month” is an important cultural festival in Taiwan, in addition to these rituals and ceremonies, events take place all across the island. While it may be too late to visit this year, it’s not too late to start making plans for 2017.
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Mary Jo Manzanares | Mary Jo Manzanares is a founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine proving informational and inspirational travel recommendations for curious Baby Boomer travelers. She has been a speaker at various industry events and has a personal travel blog at Traveling with MJ. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Mary Jo's top travel destinations are Italy, Portugal, and the Caribbean.