Experience Keelung’s Ghost Festival Parade

If you're looking for a bit of adventure and aren't afraid of ghosts, head to Keelung to experience Ghost Festival along with the locals for an unforgettable experience.

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The photo shows the Ghost Festival parade in 2017. (Photo by Brittany Orr)

KEELUNG (Taiwan News) - The most well-known event of Ghost Festival takes place on the 14th day of the 7th lunar month every year. This year, the water lantern parade and release will shut down the downtown area of Keelung for the afternoon and evening of August 24th. The lively parade features both traditional and modern aspects of the Ghost Festival. It all leads up to the water lantern release at Wanghai Bay opposite Badouzi Train Station and nearby Chaojing Park.

Keelung has a deep-rooted Ghost Festival history and has become known as the "Gates to Hell." The countless deaths caused by constant battles for resources and control of the port resulted in a large number of wandering ghosts, also known as "good brothers." To pay respect for these departed souls, the locals pray and give offerings, known as "pudu," for the entire 7th lunar month. There are rituals and ceremonies every day throughout the month, with the most festive being the parade.

Keelung's Ghost Festival carries a strong importance as it is the first folklore festival to be recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Taiwan. The rituals, ceremonies and celebration are not to be missed if you want to learn about or experience this special cultural event.

On the evening of the parade, the streets of Keelung are lined with locals, adventurous visitors and dignitaries experiencing a parade which is unlike any other.

The parade itself is centered around the water lanterns that are paraded around on floats bearing each of the 12 local clan family names. These floats are flanked by students and locals alike performing anything from jump-rope to dance to the Chinese yoyo (diabolo). You can hear the traditional music of the beiguan orchestras (traditional rock music bands), marching bands and even techno-blasting floats. As the parade snakes through the downtown area, there seems to be no end and no beginning.

The photo shows the Ghost Festival parade in 2017. (Photo by Brittany Orr)

The parade route goes by the important sites related to Ghost Festival and Keelung's history. These sites include the Chenghuang Temple, Qing-An Temple, Zhupu Altar and Lao Da Gong Temple. On the way to Wanghai Bay later in the evening, the French Cemetery is also passed. These places can be visited during the parade to get a deeper understanding of Ghost Festival. They can also be visited on the days when rituals are performed to experience more of Ghost Festival along with the locals and clans.

The route also passes by the main viewing area in front of the Keelung harbor where the dignitaries and VIPs are seated. Here each group is given a chance to perform or show off their float to the special guests. At 7:00 pm, a water and firework show is put on by boats in the harbor prior to a speech by the mayor.

The photo shows the Ghost Festival parade in 2017. (Photo by Brittany Orr)

After the parade is finished downtown, the water lantern floats and most adventurous visitors head to Wanghai Bay for the water lantern release. Upon arrival, the water lanterns are displayed by the bay. Clan members and visitors stuff the water lanterns with paper ghost money prior to the ritual. At 11:00 pm, the ritual begins. The water lanterns are paraded down to the water on the shoulders of selected clan members. Once reaching the water, the lanterns are set ablaze and pushed into the sea. It is said that the farther your lantern floats, the better your luck will be in the coming year. There is no view quite like the burning lanterns drifting off into the darkness. The excitement of the evening is closed with a breathtaking moment of reflection.

The photo shows water lantern release at Wanghai Bay in 2017. (Photo by Brittany Orr)

Keelung really comes alive as the hungry ghosts wander the city during the 7th lunar month. If you're looking for a bit of adventure and aren't afraid of ghosts, head to Keelung to experience Ghost Festival along with the locals for an unforgettable experience.

Keelung-for-a-Walk has designed walking-tours to experience the major rituals, in addition to events, lectures and maps that reveal the spiritual importance of this month, its special place in Taiwan's history and culture, and the rituals and celebrations unique to Keelung.

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Brittany Orr, a volunteer and tour guide at Keelung-for-a-Walk. Keelung-for-a-Walk is a local walking tour group that has been working to promote and attract visitors to the forgotten rainy city. As one of the first local walking tour groups, also partnering with the government, it creates events, walking tours and themed maps of Keelung.

Keelung is located 30 minutes from Taipei and is often overlooked by tourists, but it is a city with a rich cultural heritage and vibrant traditions. The group of volunteers bring visitors close to these traditions by chatting with locals who share a bit of their everyday lives, and discovering hidden gems far away from the main tourist attractions. More about Keelung-for-a-Walk:  https://keelung-for-a-walk.com/en/ 

(Photo by by Simon Guo)