Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lantern Festivals of Taiwan

Lantern Festival is commonly regarded as one of the most significant as well as the most romantic festivals in Taiwan. Held on the first full-moon night of the lunar year, it is celebrated with lantern making, lantern riddle games and displays of glittering decorative lanterns.

It is believed that this festival originated in the festive activities of agricultural people celebrating the lengthening of daylight hours and the coming of spring after the New Year. Other legends have it that the festival was actually started by an emperor of the Han Dynasty during 206 B.C – 220 A.D., who was a devout Buddhist. The emperor ordered his people to display lights on the fifteenth night of the first month of the lunar year to pay respect to Buddha. According to the same legend, holding torches or lanterns on this night makes it easier to see deities descending from heaven to give blessings to the earth.

The Tourism Bureau has been holding the Taiwan Lantern Festival for 22 years to attract visitors and raise the international profile of the cultural charms of Taiwan. Traditionally, the festival has been celebrated by carrying hand lanterns. The Taiwan Lantern Festival adds a high-tech to this traditional custom and brings the event to the international stage. From to the theme lantern displays to folk arts and performances, the festival has become a perennial favorite of locals and foreign visitors alike.

Tangyuan, also known as yuansiao is the traditional food for this occasion. Tangyuan is a glutinous rice dumpling with sweet or savory stuffing's. It comes in different choices of flavors. Sesame, peanut, red bean paste and minced pork are the most common and popular flavors while new flavors such as taro, green tea and sweet asmanthus preserves have also been attracting followers in recent years.

In Taiwan, several lantern festivals are held to promote local tourism, to attract tourist to book airfare to Taiwan. These festivals held in different parts of the country become a major tourist event in Taiwan over the years.

You will surely love the gigantic lanterns erected in the middle of the plaza of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The lanterns usually carry the theme in line with the Chinese horoscope sign of that particular year. The installation includes performances combining laser lights, music and sculptural arts. On the four sides of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, smaller lantern installations depicts folklore and historical events, large multi-colored lanterns in the likeness of various plants and animals such as butterflies, dragons, dinosaurs and birds are hung up along the road. They also have interesting live folk performances such as lion and dragon dances, acrobatic acts, folk art skits, mock battles, and booths that demonstrate and sell traditional handicrafts like fan painting, lantern making, dough sculpture, candy-figure blowing, paper cutting, Chinese knotwork and many delicious snacks and sweets. A tunnel of lights is also put up on the roads of Taipei, dressing up the whole city with glittering lights. Every year, this event attract tens of thousands of people from around Taiwan and other countries in the region to purchase airfare to Taipei, making it one of the biggest tourist highlights in Asia at the beginning of every year.

The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is one of the most colorful activities of the Lantern Festival. Pingxi is a remote hillside town. In former times, those who worked or farmed in the mountains faced the risks of being robbed or killed; so the people used lanterns to tell their families they were safe. The lanterns have lost their function as a warning signal, and today they are a symbol of peace and good fortune.

The fireworks display put on by the God of War Temple in Yanshui, Tainan City is one of the more popular and much awaited events during the Lantern Festival.

The display starts one day before the Lantern Festival with the tour of the god's sedan chair, accompanied by the discharge of firecrackers. The noise, lights, and festivities that follow continue well into the following morning.

The official lantern festival, Taiwan Lantern Festival is usually celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar with a series of activities throughout Taiwan. Among the highlight events at this time is the inspection tour of the deity Master Han Dan in Taitung City. As guardian of the celestial treasury, Han Dan is revered today as a god of wealth, but people believe that he was once a real person named Chao Kong-ming. When the god makes his annual inspection tour of the earthly world, crowds turn out to pray for his blessing and good fortune. On the day of the festival, Han Dan is also joined by other gods of the temples in various townships and Taitung on tours of the community. Households in these areas prepare offerings of fresh flowers and fruit and light strings of firecrackers to welcome the Han Dan. The person representing the god on the tour wears only a headscarf, mask and pair of red shorts. He stands courageously amidst the fusillade of firecrackers protected only by a tree branch. There are several stories as to why the people throw firecrackers at Han Dan. In one version, it is because Han Dan is the god of hooligans and his power grows with the loudness of the explosions. A less widely accepted explanation is that Han Dan is afraid of the cold, so the people throw firecrackers at the god during his tour to keep him warm and win his blessing.

Indeed, Lantern Festival is the best time for visitors to experience the best of Taiwan. From rich historical culture and customs to authentic Taiwanese cuisines and local festive delicacies, Taiwan is a place you surely would not want to miss!

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