Taiwan is the only country in the world that still reserves and frantically celebrates the ancient Chinese tradition of Ghost Month (guǐ yuè 鬼月), the 7th month of the lunar calendar. In China, the complete Atheism had eliminated this tradition. However, other Chinese speaking countries, Hong Kong, Macau or Malaysia, only have the worshiping event on the 15th of this month, that is Ghost Festival (yú lán jiē 盂蘭節)
If you are in Taiwan, you have good chances to fully experience the whole month of different atmosphere on the street, especially at night. It’d be a very unique experience trying either to avoid some taboos or to take part in some sensational festivals. Here are some tips and taboos to keep in mind when you happen to be in Taiwan this month. (This year: 2015.8.14 – 2015.9.12)
During ghost month, the word “ghost” (guǐ 鬼) is seldom heard, especially at night. Taiwanese tend to call the ghosts as good brothers (hǎo xiōng dì 好兄弟) in this month. There exist many taboos at this time, like surgery, buying cars, throwing a wedding, buying house and moving house. As a foreigner, you are suggested to pay attention to the 5 taboos.
1. Don’t go swimming:
Though water activities are very alluring in summer, you might notice that fewer people go swimming and even for beach activities this month. Ghost Month is believed to be a specific month for the drowned ghosts to catch victims for a chance to rebirth.
2. Don’t just turn your head around if someone pats you on the street:
It’s been said that there are two flames on people’s two shoulders, to protect the “Qi” (qì 氣) of our bodies. The two flames might be easily put off if you just turn your head back when being called or patting on the shoulders. The loss of the two flames makes you sick for no reasons and vulnerable to any fluctuations in your surroundings.
3. Don’t pick up coins and money on the street:
Generally speaking, you’d better avoid picking anything on the street during Ghost Month. If you pick up something that doesn’t belong to you, you might be tailed home by good brothers.
4. Don’t kill insects in your house:
It is believed that people might be visited by their ancestors as the form of insects during Ghost Month. These insects might be some special breeds, rather than mosquitoes or flies. Although it is just a belief, it is a good suggestion to avoid killing insects at this time because some rare insects are very poisonous.
5. Don’t sit in the front row of outdoor shows:
It might be exciting to see many outdoor shows after dark at this time, most of which are Gezaixi shows (gē zǎi xì 歌仔戲) and Puppet shows (bù dài xì 布袋戲). Please note that the first row is reserved for VIP good brothers. It is rude to offend their privilege.
Albeit with some taboos, Ghost Months is frantically celebrated everywhere in Taiwan. Here list 3 major festivals for foreigners to follow.
1. Great Worship on Ghost Festival (zhōng yuán jiē 中元節)
The 15th day of Ghost Month is traditionally called Ghost Festival. It’s might be one of the most expected festivals for kids in Taiwan because most families would buy tons of candies, drinks, cookies and traditional food to worship the “good brothers”. Now it is very clear what the kids are yearning for.
It’s very easy to take part in this event cause it is almost everywhere, especially in famous temples. If you are looking for a really big event, you might not miss the following one.
Huwei Great Worship (hǔ wěi zhōng yuán jì 虎尾中元祭)
Date: the 15th day of Ghost Month
Address： Everywhere in Huwei town
Traffic：Get off at the Donan train station and transfer with Bus 7102 to Huwei
2. Keelung Lantern Festival (jī lóng zhōng yuán jì 雞籠中元祭)
When it comes to Ghost Month, Keelung is the city that you cannot miss. It has a welcoming event on the 1st day of Ghost Month, the opening of Ghost Gate. Later, there hold lantern parades and firework shows all the way until the 15th day. The high tide falls on the 15th day, or say Ghost Festival, for the event of Water Lantern Night. People set many water lanterns on fire to the sea, which give directions to the drowned ghosts and worship them for good luck.
3. Grappling with the Ghost (qiǎng gū 搶孤)
Grappling with the Ghost, to put straight, is a pole climbing competition. It is an event to entertain the hungry ghosts. Competitors are to resemble hungry ghosts struggling for food on the top of 12m high poles covered in oil. To win the 1st prize, competitors must be very swift, skillful and powerful, usually teamed of 3-6 people. It is kind of Taiwan’s version of American Ninja Warrior.
It is a very unique event, which you can only see it in Taiwan. Two towns are noted for this event.
Date: the 29th day of Ghost Month
Address： 頭城開成寺 ( No.15, Jixiang Rd. Toucheng Township, Yilan County )
Traffic：Get off at the Tochen train station.
Date: the 15th day of Ghost Month
Address： 恆春天后宮 ( No.126, Fude Rd., Hengchun Township, Pingtung County )
Traffic：Get off at Hengchun Bus Station (from Kaohsiung Bus Station)