Surviving Ghost Month in Taiwan

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I am certainly no expert on Taiwanese culture and traditions, but I enjoy participating in many of the events that happen in the course of the year. Many people might be surprised to hear that we are currently moving toward the end of Ghost Month in Taiwan. Carrie Kellenberger has spent much more time in the area (and in many other places) and offers the following introduction about this tradition.

The hungry ghosts of Taiwan are currently haunting this beautiful island. Yes, you read that right! And they’re going to continue haunting the island for the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar.

This means a number of things for residents of Taiwan. For one, there is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of paper burning and alter worship happening in temples and on the streets right now. The Taiwanese are a naturally superstitious people, and this is particularly evident during Ghost Festival, also know as the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Ghost Month typically occurs in August, but in 2017, for example, Ghost Month in Taiwan falls in September.)

The custom originates from China, but it is also celebrated by Buddhists and Taoists in other Asian countries and in Asian communities around the world. The most important day of Ghost Month is known as Ghost Day, and it falls on the 15th night of the festival. Taiwanese believe that this is the time of year when spirits and ghosts are nearest to our realm of existence, thus the living are likely to be visited by the dead – unless they are appeased.

If you check out Carrie’s post, you will find out about the superstitions and prohibitions that are in place during this month. (She also has awesome posts about all kinds of places to visit around the world. It’s a great blog if you want to do some exploring.)

While Ghost Month lasts for the entire lunar month, the Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the eve of the 15th day of the 7th lunar month–which in 2014 was Saturday, August 9. In an article, the Hungry Ghost Month, Lauren Mack points out that although it is believed the gates of hell are open throughout the Hungry Ghost Month, they are most open on the 15th day of the lunar month. It is believed many hungry and wayward ghosts come to visit the living.

These festivals are celebrated all over the island usually involving lanterns. One such festival is celebrated with fireworks and lanterns at the Guishan Township Office parking lot seen in the photo above. The corrugated roofing material is what we see from the balcony of our fourth floor apartment. We live across the parking lot from the township office, resulting in really great seats to watching the celebration.

ghost mosaicIn a Taiwan Photo Mystery, I posted photos from the festival outside of our apartment. What you see in the photos are 5 trucks, that have racks of lanterns that are raised upright. Those who guessed fireworks are not quite correct. Fireworks are part of the festivities, and some are even set off behind the lantern displays, the the majority of the fireworks are set off on the other side of the parking lot. In this post, I will show you some closer images of the lanterns and a couple of the fireworks. It was difficult to get good shots of the fireworks, but I have a few things to show you.

Even though I am going to be starting my 6th year of teaching in Taiwan, this is the first time I have been here for Ghost Month. The previous summers, I’ve been visiting home in the US during this time. My husband had seen this before, so it was fun to be able to see it with him this year. (Plus, we finally figured out which night it would be rather than him just being surprised by it.)

Here are a couple of the fireworks, but I think the best photo is the one at the top of this post.

fireworks 2 panelHere is a photo with two of the trucks carrying the lantern displays. The lanterns themselves are red, but the lights make for some interesting colors.

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Some close-ups of the lanterns.

lanternsOne of the cool things about trying to photograph fireworks is that you can also get some really interest effects. This is one of my favorites from the evening.

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After approximately 30 minutes of the fireworks and the lantern display, the lanterns are returned to the resting position, and the trucks start moving away.

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Only a few days remain in Ghost Month for this year. I’m hoping that we manage to get through it without any sightings.  I hope you enjoyed a glimpse at the celebration in our Taiwanese neighborhood.

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14 comments on “Surviving Ghost Month in Taiwan

    • It’s interesting how cultural traditions carry on over the centuries. But every culture does it. Many of our Christmas celebrations are kind of over the top. 😉

    • I think it’s particularly interesting because what I showed is just what happens in my little neighborhood. Some communities have bigger and more elaborate festivals. Still, I can’t complain about the ringside seats. 😉

  1. That’s fascinating. It’s vaguely familiar, like I’ve read a little bit about it before, but not to this extent, perhaps? I love learning about other cultures, so thank you, always for the tidbits you share 🙂

    • I’m glad you like it. I discovered through comments that people really are interested in cultural aspects of Taiwan, so I am trying to include regular posts about interesting things here. I have quite a list of possible posts. 😉

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