Taking influence from its neighbours, Taiwan has a rich and vibrant culture that is celebrated through many flamboyant and ancient festivals. Passion is at the heart of every celebration, featuring lanterns, colourful dress, food and drink, and a healthy dose of firecrackers.
Dragon Boat Racing Festival
Dating back to around 2500 years ago, almost 250 teams travel to the capital Taipei to race in one of Taiwan’s oldest folk traditions: the Dragon Boat Racing Festival. Teams row the ornately decorated boats that look like dragons to commemorate the ancient king Cyu Yuan, who threw himself into the river to end his personal suffering upon finding out his home province had been taken over. The story goes that local fisherman raced their boats to try to recover the body, throwing Zongzih dumplings into the river to distract the fish, and this has provided the basis for the festivals current traditions. And it is these dumplings that are eaten in huge quantities over the Dragon Boat Racing Festival. The races take place in early June, one held in Taipei, and the other in Lugang. The race itself is intensely exciting, as the expertly carved and elegantly coloured dragon boats race through the water, urged on by the noisy and excitable crowd to the beat of the booming drums
Taiwan Balloon Festival
In addition to the historic and traditional festivals that Taiwan is famous for, the country also boasts a brand new festival: The Taiwan Balloon Festival. Established in 2011, the festival takes place in June, July and August. Rides are offered at dawn or dusk throughout the festival, and there are five lightshows throughout the festival, when you can watch the balloons fly with music in the background and fireworks lighting up the sky.Read more
September hosts the Ghost Festival, with two major festivals – one originating from Buddhist religion, and one from Taoist. The ghosts are believed to rise from the underworld at the beginning of the month, and offerings are made to bless the living with good luck. One ‘not-to-be-missed’ ceremony during the festival is the outstanding “Grappling with the Ghosts” in Yilan’s Toucheng. Uniquely among Taiwan’s ghost festivals, Toucheng’s festival is not only about making offerings to the dead, it’s also a chance for worshippers to give alms to the poor.
Before the closing of the gates to the underworld at the end of the seventh lunar month, structures called Gupeng are built for the festival. The twelve wooden pillars reach a mighty 30 metres high, on top of which a platform is surmounted by thirteen cone-shaped bamboo structures, as sweet treats and pastries are placed on the Gujhan. At the first stroke of midnight teams of young men compete with one another to climb up the tower and topple the platform of pastries. It is a true spectacle of endurance and strength.
Held on the first full-moon night of the lunar year, the Lantern Festival is commonly regarded as one of the most spectacular and romantic festivals in Taiwan, and a must-see celebration for locals and visitors alike. The festival originates from the celebration of longer daylight hours in the New Year, and the coming of spring. Held in a different location every year, the 2015 celebration is set to take place in Taichung, where tens of thousands of visitors from all over Taiwan, (and the world) will gather to join this enchanting festival. The lanterns are often decorated like plants and animals, and are displayed in a show featuring music, laser lights and Chinese fireworks, for a truly explosive celebration.
The Bombing of Master Han Dan
During the Lantern Festival in the Taitung and Hualien provinces, another festival quite literally sparks into life: the Bombing of Master Han Dan. He is believed to be the God of wealth, and one of the highest honours to be bestowed is to be selected to play the role of the great Master Han Dan in this fire-loving festival. Bare to the waist, Master Han Dan stands on a plinth carried by four men through the gathered crowd, who begin throwing firecrackers as this is believed to drive the cold from his body and ward off evil spirits. The more firecrackers you throw at the God of wealth, the more you will be rewarded with wealth in the future. The result is a spectacular of light and energy, and a proud Master Han Dan. The tradition has been part of Lunar New Year celebrations in Taiwan for centuries, usually falling around the end of February and forms a major highlight of the two-day parade that marks the Lantern Festival and Lunar New Year.
Taiwan Cycling Festival
Whether you’re into your cycling or not, you’ll all agree that any cycle ride through some of Taiwan’s most spectacular landscapes is going to be an incredible experience. The Taiwan Cycling Festival, therefore, is definitely an event to add to your calendar. Throughout the duration of the festival, bike rides for professionals as well as softer rides for families and tourists are arranged, making this more of a hands on experience than a spectator event. Its the perfect way to celebrate the natural beauty of this enchanting little island and you’ll get to see it all first hand too.
New Year’s Eve Celebrations
Each year every major city across the world strives to put on the best New Year’s firework display. And, being the second major city to showcase their creativity and excitement for the coming year, it only seems right that Taipei is one of the best cities to do this. Taipei 101 is the central attraction, for when the countdown is in its final stages, the building lights itself up floor by floor from the bottom up. This is bound to be the biggest countdown clock you’ll ever see. As soon as midnight is reached a flurry of fireworks are set off. It really is as spectacular as it sounds.