If you think Eastern religions are all paper lanterns and chanting monks, think again. In Taiwan a unique ethnic mix of Han Chinese, Taiwanese, and aboriginals has created a religious cocktail containing one part Buddhism, one part Taoism, and a dash of local folklore. The result is a spirituality filled with demons and ghosts against which humans only have one defense: fireworks. Fireworks are thought to scare away ghosts and are set off pretty much constantly during religious processions and ceremonies.
The truth is Taiwanese people love setting of fireworks all the time, and it’s not uncommon to hear them at any time of day in any place. The epitome of the Taiwanese love affair with fireworks occurs on the fifteenth day of each the lunar year (usually early – mid February) in a southern town called Yenshuei. It’s said that during the 17th century Yenshuei suffered a 20-year long cholera plague that ended only after a massive number of fireworks where detonated to scare away the plague-causing ghosts. Now, to celebrate the end of the plague, every year the city orchestrates an orgy of explosions. The fireworks display is magnificent, but the real excitement lies in the direction in which the fireworks are fired: which happens to be straight into the surrounding crowds.
This is how it works. A parade circulates through the town. It stops at designated spots where authorities set up large fireworks containers called ‘hives’ (think two mid-size sedans stacked on top of each other). Each hive contains as many as sixty thousand fireworks. Participants dressed in heavy clothing and full-face motorcycle helmets crowd around it. They start jump up and down to prevent fireworks from getting stuck in their clothes, the hive is lit, and 90 seconds of apocalyptic chaos ensues.
Yenshuei normally receives few tourists, and accommodations during the festival are booked far in advance, so we suggest that you check out the foreigner-owned Uncle Mike’s Guest House in nearby Tainan, which is Taiwan’s oldest and most historical city.
Matches not included.
Uncle Mike’s Guest House
40 Wen Xian Rd., Tainan City, Taiwan
Tainan City, Taiwan
Phone +866 976-456-110