There is a rich history attached to Taiwanese culture. The seventh month of the lunar calendar is recognized as Taiwanese Ghost Month. In the northeastern part of Taiwan stands the sleepy port city of Keelung. For over 163 years, the small city has mobilized to host an entire lunar month of rituals that effectively blend religious, cultural, and traditional symbols.
Dating back to 1851, the Keelung Ghost Festival is one of the oldest festivals in Taiwan, featuring offerings, parades, performances and sacrificial rituals for the spirits to protect the living from eternal suffering in the afterlife. Each ritual has historical and folk significance, and over the last few years, cultural and artistic aspects have been integrated into the traditional festival unique to Taiwanese culture.
What happens during the Ghost Festival
On the first day of the 7th lunar month, when the gate of Lao Da Gong Temple opens, the ritual is called “Kanmen.” It is believed that the gates of tombs and graveyards are left open the whole month, giving the spirits of the dead free access to the world of the living.
The Ghost Festival consists of a different ritual on each day, but the major rituals fall on the days between the 12th and 15th days of the 7th lunar month.
On the 12th day, the Taoist exorcism takes place; lamps on the Zhupu altar are lit, casting spectacular rays of colored lights across the city.
On the 13th day, the Dipper Lantern (Ying Dou Deng) is paraded around Ching-An Temple to pray for good fortune.
The 14th day features a large-scale parade with celebrations and performances in the city center, marking the occasion for the water lantern release. After the parade, the water lanterns are lit and set adrift down the seashore of Keelung to honor and reconcile with the spirits of the drowned.
On the 15th day, a public Taoist prayer is held as a sacrificial ritual at the Zhupu altar. In addition, every household has its own sacrificial ritual known as ‘Pudu.’ Incense and food are offered to the spirits to keep them from visiting homes, and spirit paper money is also burnt as an offering. At midnight, the ritual of Chung Kwei (a deity who protects people and places from evil spirits) begins, and he comes to calm the ghosts and keep them from disturbing the living.
On the first day of the 8th lunar month, the Lao Da Gong Temple gates officially close and a ceremony takes place for the next clan to host the following year’s festival.
History of the Keelung Ghost festival.
The Keelung of the past includes Jiufen, Yehliu, Pingxi, Jinshan, and Ruifan. This group of participants makes up the traditional Keelung Ghost Festival, and its traditions can be seen on display in the festival parade.
If you are not here during the time of the festival don't worry. Take a walk to Zhongzheng park where you will find the Ghost festival Museum that will ensure you don't miss out on any aspect of Taiwanese culture in relation to this unique festival.