A Midsummer Feast of the Dead

Legend has it that the Ghost Festival was celebrated as early as 1,000 years ago during Sung Dynasty. The gates to the Purgatory would be open to allow the souls of the departed to return to the world of the mortals on the 1st of the seventh lunar month, where they reunite with their loved ones and enjoy the offerings prepared by the living for 30 days. The Chung Yuan ceremony held in Keelung is one of the most spectacular Chung Yuan festivals in Taiwan, and listed as one of the 12 major festivities in the country. Every family in Keelung lights a lamp by the door to light the way for ghosts at night. A parade is also held for releasing the water lanterns. After incense is burned and the gods worshipped, the paper lanterns are set afloat on the water, and pushed toward the open sea. On the 15th day of the month, the centerpiece of the month-long festival, sacrificial rites for delivering the ghosts are performed both in public and private. At the end of the rites, ceremonial dances are also performed to welcome "Chung Kuei" to keep the ghosts in order. As the month draws to a close, the gates are closed to ensure that no waylaid ghosts are left behind to haunt the living.

Photo by FrankyChou

The dancing milky ways

The party begins after dark...galaxies of fireflies twinkle on and off, flinging upward in a blaze of light, dropping earthward like falling stars, and moving in effervescent dance as spring segues into summer. These flickering performers reveal themselves in a handful of the capital's pristine suburbs. Taipei, too, has its own Starry, Starry Night.

A union under the full, splendid moon makes one of the most Instagramable moments; the smiles of your loved ones give the home-baked, rustic moon cakes all the flavoring they need. The rich, golden colors of the fall harvest burst forth from the hostess gifts of fruit; and the cool, crisp night breeze tinges with the first hint of autumn. The festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese Han calendar, halfway into the fall season. This hallmark Taiwanese holiday is warmly celebrated with boisterous gatherings of friends and family, an incredible blowout of food, seasonal pomelos and tasty pastries in both savory and sweet selections known as moon cakes. The holiday is observed with heightened revelry in Taiwan because of the outdoor barbeques. Later into the night, snuggle close to your loved ones with a lightweight blanket, and watch the milky-white full moon ascends to the center of the sky.

Photo by Benny(I am empty)

The Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival.

Summer in Taiwan customarily begins on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Lunar Calendar, the day of the Dragon Boat Festival. The increasing swelter also signifies faster spread of disease. The ancients prepared satchets of incense, or hanging clusters of lemongrass and mugwort around the house to ward off the diseases. The festival's highlight activity is none other than dragon boat racing, a holdover tradition from the agricultural lifestyle of the past. People sought to please the King of Dragons through these rituals for bumper crop and favorable weather. The white, foamy streaks of water in the wake of the racing boats, the thrumming of drum on each boat to pace the sweating rowers, and the delightul aroma of bamboo leave wrappers for the zongzi are some of the moments of greatest on this statutory holiday!

(Photo by Tony Tseng)

The millets crops are ready for harvest at the beginning of summer. In preparing for the arrival of the Goddess of Millet, who favors the quiet of the night for making her appearance, the Tsou people fast and cleanse as part of the tribal ritual. The Harvest also signifies the coming of New Year for the Tsou; Tsou tribesmen who leave their homestead to seek greener pastures in town would return to partake in the Harvest. Elders build an altar at the millet farm, and gather by the bonfire in the village clearing, to wait for the Goddess to come and bring her blessings.