Keelung Ghost Festival activities in northern Taiwan to reach climax Friday night

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(Release of water lanterns from last year)

(Release of water lanterns from last year)

KEELUNG (Taiwan News)-- The month-long Keelung Ghost Festival will reach its climax on Friday night (August 24) with a parade and the release of the water lanterns, which will work the city into a frenzy. It would be nice to come to Keelung to experience the tradition that has been observed for more than 160 years.

On Thursday afternoon I joined a walking tour organized by Keelung-for-a-walk to learn about the Keelung Ghost Festival, which is famed for having the most distinct ceremonies and tradition in Taiwan.  

Keelung-for-a-walk, a small organization established by Keelung locals, organizes regular walking tours to guide participants to the city’s hidden treasures and rich culture.

Miss Mila Su served as my guide for the Thursday tour. She first took me into the Keelung Culture Center, where I was introduced to a display of colorful and elaborate paper artworks, which are the so-called water lanterns. These water lanterns resemble splendid ancient guest houses and will serve as invitations for ghosts in the sea to come ashore to the city and feast on the offerings the city has prepared for them.

A water lantern displayed at Keelung Culture Center

A water lantern displayed at Keelung Culture Center

On Friday night, the night of the release of the water lanterns, the streets in downtown Keelung will be closed off so people can enjoy the magnificent parade which displays all the water lanterns made by 15 clan associations from the city and neighboring communities.  

After the parade, these water lanterns will be transported to Wanghai Lane (望海巷) near Badouzi Harbor (八斗子漁港) to be burnt on the sea around 11 p.m., which is the so-called the water lantern release, the highlight of the month-long festival.

The release of the water lanterns from last year's festival (courtesy of Keelung-for-a-walk)

The release of the water lanterns from last year's festival (courtesy of Keelung-for-a-walk)

According to Mila, there will be free shuttle buses at the Culture Center on Zhongzheng Road to transport visitors to Wanghai Lane to see the release of the water lanterns.    

During the Thursday walking tour, we encountered a warm-up parade, which procession was made up of folk music bands and floats made by the 15 clan associations.

Mila told me that the Keelung Ghost Festival originated from a great number of deaths and unclaimed bodies caused by numerous international wars and armed fights among immigrants from southern China in the past that had happened on the sea off the port city as well as inland.

People of Keelung think it’s important to treat and comfort the spirits of the numerous people who died in the tragic incidents, including foreigners, she said. Therefore, people of Keelung regard the ghost festival as significant as Chinese New Year.       

Mila told me that many people think the most important part of the ghost festival is the releasing of the water lanterns, but actually the core part of the festival is “Pudu.”

On the Pudu day, people give offerings to the wandering ghosts in order to worship their ancestors and the spirits, and pray for peace in the coming year, she said. The altar for the Pudu is traditionally set up at the city’s Zhongzheng Park, which is located on a hill overlooking the city.

Mila later took me to some interesting places in the old section of the city, including temples, a confectionary, and stores selling spirit money.

For more information about Keelung-for-a-walk, please visit their website, Facebook page or Instagram.  

Keelung Qiengan Temple (慶安宮)