TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- While the official Lantern Festival (元宵節, Yuan Xiao Jie) falls on February 11—the first full moon and 15th day of the lunar year, marking the end of New Year celebrations—Taiwan has celebrations throughout February at different locations to allow tourists and residents an opportunity to experience the holiday festivities in different towns.
The Lantern Festival dates back to at least the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), though the origin is traced to multiple legends. While carrying colorful lanterns on the evening of the festival is the main event, it's also a tradition to eat tangyuan (湯圓)—sweet or savory glutinous rice balls.
While the Lantern Festival can be celebrated anywhere in Taiwan, there are a few larger celebrations for tourists and residents to experience.
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival (平溪天燈節)
When people talk about Lantern Festival in Taiwan, the first place that comes to mind is Pingxi (平溪), which will host its event from February 11 to 19 this year. There will be a second Sky Lantern Festival on October 4 to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. On February 11th starting at 10 am, free lantern releasing tickets will be handed out. Lanterns will be released at 6 and 7 pm on the February 11.
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival (Photo by flickr user Jirka Matousek)
Pingxi, just west of Taipei, is renowned for its sky lanterns (天燈), with more than 100,000 sky lanterns launched during the festival in 2013. The town was selected among National Geographic magazine’s “Best Winter Trips 2016.” In previous years it has been recommended by CNN and Fodor’s.
Legends claim that the sky lantern, so named because it rises in the air due to a small flame placed inside, was invented by Zhuge Liang during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-265). While it was originally used for military purposes, it grew in popularity. The sky lantern became a part of Lantern Festival celebrations in Taiwan in the early 19th century. Today, people write wishes for the new year on the large lanterns before releasing them.
The festival has received criticism as the sky lanterns return to earth and residents are left to clean up the debris in the rivers and fields. However, the town has cleanup crews on hand during the festival to assist with retrieving the lanterns.
The lanterns are available year-round for visitors who prefer to avoid the crowd during the festival, but cleanup crews are not on hand the rest of the year.
Taipei Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival was first held in the capital city in 1990 as the national lantern festival until 2001. This year's Taipei Lantern Festival has selected the theme "West Side Story, Taipei Glory" and will take place from February 4 to 17. The festival will kick off around Beimen on Sec. 1 Zhonghua Rd. with a lighting ceremony at 6 pm.
2017 Taipei Lantern Festival Lantern Festival (Photo from Facebook 台北旅遊網)
The celebration will feature traditional lantern displays and a high-tech showcase of projection and illumination technology on historical sites and buildings. The Japanese band World Order will perform on February 4 and 5 at the Main Display Area at Ximending.
The lantern zones will span several areas around Beimen and along Zhonghua Road, and include a main display area, light sculpture area, landscape creativity area, Universiade interactive area, blessing lantern area, freestyle creativity area, student creativity area and a friendly exchange area featuring lanterns sponsored by private businesses and foreign representative offices and nations.
For more information visit the official website.
Yunlin Lantern Festival
In its 27th year, the Yunlin Lantern Festival will be held from February 11 to 19, with the entrance to the event at the Yunlin High Speed Rail Station. It will be the largest festival in the municipality's history, covering 50 hectares. This year's celebration is also host to the Taiwan Lantern Festival, which the Tourism Bureau began in 1990 in Taipei and has rotated through counties since 2001.
Yunlin Lantern Festival (Photo by flickr user Wei Nung Su)
This year's slogan for the event is "Auspicious Rooster Soars Among the Clouds." The festival theme "Lantern Festival blended into the City" will feature 19 light-themed and decorated areas to connect the Lantern Festival with Yunlin County. These areas will lead visitors through Yunlin (Huashan) Gukeng Coffee Park, the winter corridor with blooming red cotton trees and the wetland fishing village, among others.
According to organizers, "it is a series of activities that showcase the LOHAS spirit, hometown nostalgia, traditional arts and crafts, and prayer for happiness and safety in the new year."
Kaohsiung Lantern Festival
Started in 2001, Kaohsiung's Lantern Festival festivities are held along Love River. This year's festival began on January 30 and will last until February 12. The main celebration will be held on February 11.
It features daily fireworks displays, light and dancing fountain shows, as well as musical performances. The fireworks displays will be at 7 and 9 pm, while the light and dancing fountain shows will be staged from 7 to 10 pm with each show lasting 30 minutes.
Taitung Bombing of Master Handan
Though Taitung foregoes the lanterns, it still hosts the Bombing of Master Handan (炸寒單), which began in 1954 as part of its Lantern Festival celebrations. In Taiwanese folklore the Handan is a god of wealth and war. He is also afraid of the cold, so the firecrackers are set off around a man playing the part of the god, which is paraded around town by volunteers, in an effort to warm him. The volunteers carrying the "Handan" wear only a red headscarf, an amulet and red shorts (and safety goggles).
Bombing of Master Handan (Photo from Facebook 台東玄武堂寒單爺)
The celebration had been banned for years due its connection to organized crime in the area, but it is now officially recognized by the government.
Tainan Yue Jin Lantern Festival
The city expects this year's festival to draw its largest crowd, with a target of about 600,000 attendees, at Yuejin Port in Yanshui District (鹽水). The celebration will include dance performances, concerts, art and light installations, and movie screenings throughout the area. And there will be the famous "beehive" fireworks at Yanshui Wu Miao Temple.
"Beehive" fireworks in Yanshui. (Photo by flickr user HD Erich)
The event will run all month, with the larger performances and celebrations on Feb. 11. This year's celebration will feature 50 art installations, including an illuminated artificial bamboo forest maze titled Yuemijin (月迷津) by Taiwanese artist Yu Wen-fu.
Central Taiwan Lantern Festival, Taichung
The festival will be held at Taichung Park and Taichung City Seaport Art Center from Feb. 5 to 19, with the theme "Blooming Phoenix." Lanterns will be lit each night between 6 and 10 pm and the celebration will include interactive lantern displays as well as plenty of local cuisine.
Wen-Hsin Forest Park, Taichung (Wikimedia Commons)
Penghu Lantern Festival
Penghu retains many traditions in its Lantern Festival celebrations, instead of attracting visitors with contemporary art installations and light shows like other destinations in Taiwan. Residents of Penghu will partake in the qigui (乞龜) practice—praying to turtles (平安龜) at temples as they symbolize longevity and good luck.
Festivities will run throughout the month and will include a rice noodle feast on Feb. 27.
Hualien Lantern Festival (花蓮太平洋燈會)
Hualien began celebrating on Jan. 21 and will continue until Feb. 19. Festivities will be held along Zhongshan Rd. by Dongdamen Night Market with additional celebrations at Liyu Lake (鯉魚潭) in Shoufeng Township, which will feature a giant red-faced duck.
Hualien Lantern Festival (Photo from Hualien Tourist Service Network)
The main light show in Hualien will be held every half hour between 6:30 and 9:30 pm along with a water and light show every half hour from 6:45 to 9:45. In Shoufeng, performances will be held every half hour from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Ciyou Temple, Taipei (松山慈祐宮媽祖)
While Ciyou Temple, dedicated to the Taoist goddess Mazu/Matsu (天上聖母), the sea goddess, is generally more popular for the first day of the Lunar New Year, it also hosts its own Lantern Festival celebration on Feb. 11.
The Lantern Festival celebration begins at 4 pm and will include musical performances.
Ciyou Temple (Photo from 台北旅遊網)