The Keelung Night Parade is one of the biggest events in Northern Taiwan's 'Rainy port' following the Ghost Month Festival. With colourful costumes and a lot of noise, participants pass through the Night Market and various temples. Mila, founder of Keelung for a Walk (KFW), explains why the parade is so important for the inhabitants of Keelung.
KFW: The Keelung Night Parade takes place once a year on a lunar August 14th just after ghost month. Mila, if the parade was held today, which spot would you recommend to see it?
Mila: The best advice is to actually follow the parade! You can start with the crowd at Chenghuang-Temple where followers of the temple will donate some money to get incense sticks and lanterns to join the parade. Once the parade has started, you can walk all the way through Downtown and the Night Market with them. You should bring comfortable shoes and a raincoat just in case. If you prefer staying in one place, I would recommend you to wait at Qing-An-Temple or Tien-Ji-Temple to see the parade's show.
KFW: No matter where you watch the parade – the streets are full of people. Why are people so excited about the event?
Mila: The Keelung Night Parade is really important for locals because they believe by joining the parade, bad luck will be removed and they will get blessed. The background is the ghost month in lunar July: On the first day the gate opens and people believe that the spirits are coming to our world. When the ghost month finishes, the spirits should go back to hell. But there are always some leftover spirits that didn't go back.
The parade takes place in the night because people believe this is the time when ghosts are more active. Participants drive away the remaining ghosts and the bad luck. People would even lie down on the floor towards the parade because they believe the blessing from the god comes to them more directly.
KFW: The most eye-catching participants of the parade are the huge figures. Why do they dress up like this?
Mila: These figures are actually the Chenghuang god and his guards – the tall white and the little black figure. The Chenghuang god is in charge of hell and therefore of the ghosts which pass the gate of hell. His guards are helping him secure the city and kick out all the remaining ghosts. In the parade, participants dressed up as guards have also brooms with them to push them back to hell.
KFW: Some participants carry a ring of bread rolls. People are running after them in order to get their piece. Why is that?
Mila: People are longing for the bread because it will bring them blessing. They will bring it home and eat it with their families to share the luck. For foreigners it might be strange to see this situation as the bread men have painted their faces with a really angry expression. But this is because their role is also to kick out the ghosts and demons.
KFW: Drums, trumpets, firecrackers – why are parade participants making so much noise?
Mila: The music the people play in the parade we call Bei-Guan. It's Taiwanese traditional folklore music. You can hear this sound every time there are temple activities and god birthdays. When they play it, everybody knows they are coming – it's showing a presence in the space. The firecrackers also arouse attention and show the presence of the parade to the god. When you follow the parade, you will notice that they will put some firecrackers at each temple. This is because the participants also use it as a greeting – to say hello.
KFW: In case I have missed the night parade, when can I visit similar events in Keelung?
Mila: I would suggest the ghost festival in lunar July as it is the most important and special event in Keelung. During the ghost month, we have a lot of day and night parades, lantern releases and all the city is decorated. There are a lot of interesting rituals where you can see people praying and giving offerings to the spirits.
Apart from that, there are a lot of festivities around the birthday of Matsu, the goddess of the sea. People are also organizing a parade in Downtown. These events are held in lunar April – but the dates of the events vary every year. Visitors who are interested should feel free to message us to know the exact dates. We are happy to help out!
KFW: Thank you, Mila!