29th June 2017 | by Guest author
Whether celebrating the end of harvest, the beginning of a new year, or bringing forth good luck, there are exuberant festivals in Taiwan all through the year. Regardless of the occasion, you can be sure of a few key features: fireworks, lots of lanterns, more fireworks, music, parades and some fabulous festive food.
You can ask one of our Destination Specialists which festivals are taking place during your own holiday in Taiwan - in the meantime, here are a few of the big ones, for inspiration.
Fireworks – all year round
Fireworks are a highlight of many Taiwanese festivities, and we love it! The simple joy of watching coloured sparkles explode across the night sky is pretty-much guaranteed to raise a smile, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to get your firework fill. The summertime Penghu Ocean Firework Festival is a highly-choreographed opus which is beautiful to watch, but the craziest celebration has to be the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival at the end of New Year. It is named after the thousands of fire crackers which are set off at once, causing a noise like a swarm of bees. You’re highly likely to get hit by a few, so wear protective gear if you go anywhere near! Many festivals throughout the year finish with less immersive fireworks displays, so there are plenty of places where you can watch a more chilled-out one if that’s your style.
Love and togetherness - Qixi
28th August 2017
The festival of Qixi, based around a folk tale of two star-crossed lovers, is known as Asia’s answer to St Valentines day. The story goes that two lovers, Zhinu, the daughter of a God, and Niulang, a humble cowherd, have been banished to opposite sides of the galaxy. However, once every year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, a flock of birds form a bridge allowing them to be reunited. This date has been adopted as a celebration of love throughout Taiwan. There are fireworks displays over the Love River in Kaohsiung (of course!), and couples attach love locks to the Rainbow Bridge in Taipei to celebrate their commitment to each other. Many restaurants have special menus and offers around this time, so it’s a great day to treat your significant other to a night out.
Ancestral respect – Ghost Month & Tomb Sweeping Day
22nd August – 20th Sept 2017, April 5th 2018 (respectively)
Tomb Sweeping Day, or Qingming, is a national holiday dedicated to keeping close to past relatives; ensuring they are remembered by cleaning and caring for their memorials, making offerings of food and worshipping by the graveside. The festival signals a time of rebirth too, as the land re-emerges into spring after the long winter.
Ghost Month takes place during August and September in and around Keelung, when some believe that spirits of the dead haunt the island. A dramatic ceremony opens ‘the gates of hell’ to release the spirits, followed by twelve evenings of lighting lanterns. This leads up to an eerie yet beautiful procession where water lanterns in all shapes and sizes are set alight and released into the harbour before the spirits are called back through the gates until next year.
4th October 2017
Every culture has its unique way of marking the end of the harvest - that point in the seasonal calendar when there is time to pause and enjoy the warm weather and new abundance of food. The Moon Festival, held during the mid-Autumn full moon, is a national holiday in Taiwan; a time to get together with family and give thanks. One defining feature of this festival is the delicacy known as the mooncake. These little packages of golden pastry wrapped around a rich filling and decorated with symbols of good fortune come in a hundred varieties and shapes. The filling could be anything from the traditional bean paste, pork or duck egg, to chocolate, ice cream and green tea. Try as many as you can before the festival ends and find a favourite or two.
Double Tenth Day 10th Oct 2017, Double Ninth Day 28th Oct 2017
The ‘double’ celebrations sound similar, but are two very distinct events. Double Ninth Day, on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, is when an imbalance of ‘yang’ can, according to Chinese tradition, herald bad luck. To counter this, people wear sprigs of the medicinal Evodia Rutaecarpa plant, drink chrysanthemum tea and climb to the top of a high mountain. If you’re the trekking type, this is the ideal day to join a hike up one of Taiwan’s famous 100 Peaks, perhaps even the highest: Jade Mountain.
Double Tenth Day, celebrated on October 10th, is Taiwan National Day. This nationwide, festive flurry of parades, rallies, martial arts displays, folk music, dancing and enthusiastic celebrations of culture, culminates (naturally) in a spectacular fireworks display in Taipei.
Sun Moon Lake
Throughout the year
As an indigenous sacred site and one of Taiwan’s top beauty spots, attracting hundreds of visitors each year, Sun Moon Lake has developed its own handful of festivals and even a marathon. The main festival in the autumn is a celebration of sports and culture, including a bike race, music and those eagerly-included fireworks!
In February and March, hundreds of cherry trees around the shores of the lake burst into pink blossom, creating some picture-perfect moments and a great excuse for e celebration. At night, the trees are illuminated with hundreds of lanterns, while music, dance and arts events take place around the town.
Keen swimmers are drawn to the lake every September for the annual swimming carnival, where anyone aged 10 and up can take part in races in the lake. Have a go yourself, or watch from the sidelines and cheer on the competitors.
A national fondness for the ‘cute’ in Taiwan means that Christmas is embraced with glitter-laden gusto, and kawaii Christmas decorations adorn the streets throughout December. However, the main mid-winter celebration is the solstice on December 21st, known as dongzhi. This turning point in the year, when the days begin to lengthen, is the time when Taiwanese families get together for celebratory meals to ward off the winter chill. Tangyuan (traditional, sticky rice dumplings) are served everywhere in a variety of bright colours which signify good fortune. You can get these comforting, starchy snacks in dozens of sweet and savoury varieties from many cafes and supermarkets all year round. Give them a try and see what all the fuss is about (clue: they’re delicious!).
Racing dragons - Dragon-Boat Festival
18th June 2018
The Dragon-Boat Festival is one of the three biggest celebrations in Taiwan's lunar calendar, along with New Year and the Moon Festival; a time when the whole country stops to celebrate. Apart from the universal festival activities involving music, dancing, eating and drinking, the main event is the racing of elaborately carved dragon-boats. One of the largest gatherings takes place on the Keelung River in Taipei’s Dajia Riverside Park, where elite teams from all over Taiwan come to race against each other in beautifully constructed boats rowed by teams of determined competitors. Spectators can cheer for their chosen team while enjoying peripheral activities such as egg balancing (of course), and making traditional rice dumplings. Think ‘Henley Regatta’, only a bit more dragony.
New Year 15-20th Feb 2018, Lantern Festival 2nd March 2018
Lanterns are a prominent part of many of Taiwan’s festivals, but none more so than lunar New Year. Falling in February or March, New Year is the ‘big one’, where the whole country joins in with the party. Lasting for 15 days, the festivities bring families together, and everything is turned red or gold to bring good luck. The grand finale to Taiwan’s New Year celebrations is a country-wide Lantern Festival. Each town celebrates in its own way, but the most spectacular is the world-famous Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. Due to Pingxi’s unique geology, it is the only location in Taiwan where sky lanterns can be legally and safely released en masse. Hundreds are sent up into the New Year night sky carrying with them people’s dreams and prayers for a prosperous year ahead. You can buy your own sky lantern kit on site, and send your dreams up with the throng.