Taiwan: Yuan-Hsiao Festival: carry a lantern, play firecrackers, and worship deities

Nowadays, people in Taiwan start working in the fifth day after lunar new year eve. However, in tradition, the 15th day, Yuan-Hsiao Festival, is the the last day of the holidays.

Based on Alanruo, these full-moon festivals are related to the productive cycles in agriculture. At the start of spring, Yuan-Hsiao Festival is full of the expectancy for life, and this is why farmers hope for abundant harvest, women hope for children, and singles gather together during this festival.


(It might be true: Yuan-Hsiao Festival this year is March 3rd, Valentine's Day is Feb 14th, and Mardi Gra is Feb 20th.)


Because the sound of ‘lantern’ (Deng) in Chinese is similar to ‘man’ (Ding), raising lantern means hoping for children.

In Taipei, we have yearly lantern demonstration. You can watch the major lantern here. If you watch it carefully, you can see a Farris wheel, Taipei 101, and a circling train. If you think it is not modern enough, how about this lantern? The major producer of this Gundam lantern, bean20, spent two and half months building the lantern with the help of 11 people.

People also go to the mountains to send ‘Tien-Deng.’ The origin of this tradition is Ping-Hsi, Taipei County. In the past, ‘Tien-Deng’ is a safety signal for families. Nowadays, it is a messenger to the deities. If you are not satisfied in watching people sending ‘Tien-Deng’, how about sending your own ‘Tien-Deng’ on line? Do not forget to write down your wishes in the blank area.

Although people enjoy this activity, Alhorn observed the poor dog lanterns last year (last year is ‘dog year’). Alhorn said, ‘the life of these lanterns is shorter than the time we need to develop the film.’


Alanruo talked about the old tradition of carrying the paper lanterns with candles:


When we carry the lanterns with candles, and when the lanterns are burnt, it is a lucky sign because the sound of ‘burn a lantern’ (Chu-Deng) is similar to the sound of ‘bear a child’ (Chu-Ding) in Chinese. If we use batteries and light bulbs, we will produce pollution that lasts for thousands of years.

‘Tien Deng’ also raises serious safety concerns. weatherman said, ‘this activity has serious public safety problems. I recommend that our government should make people more aware of the danger, and we can reduce unnecessary loss. People should know that we do have regulations for this activity, and we have responsibility for our ‘Tien-Deng’ if it affects public safety, airplane navigation, environment protection, or other disasters.’


While the northern Taiwanese lighted up the lanterns, the southern Taiwanese tried to use firecrackers to expel bad luck.

Yen-Shui, a small town in the plain, and one of the major harbors in Taiwan three hundreds years ago. In 1882, many people died from a plague. After asking the ‘Kuan-Kung’ (one of the major deities), people decided to walk the statues of the deities and set firecrackers. The plague was controlled after the ceremony, so this activity is held every year thereafter.

If you think we use normal firecrackers, you are wrong. The firecrackers in Yen-Shui is called wasp-firecrackers. Local people always spend a lot of money making or buying firecrackers, and then they will set them toward the statues of the deities. Because they have the largest and the wildest firecrackers in Taiwan, young people will wear helmets that protect the whole head and clothes that cover the whole body and walk close to the statues to feel the crazy firecrackers. This year, they even built the longest (13 km) firecracker in the world, which is called ‘the legend of fire dragon.’ (It only took 45 mins to burn out!)

In addition to carrying a lantern and playing firecrackers, we worship the deities. You can hear traditional music in the ceremonies in Alanruo's blog. She also described the ceremonies:


Yuan-Hsiao Festival is the birthday of an important deity. In addition to worshiping the deities, the temples also take care the need of the ghosts. They will hold ‘Pu-Du’ (ceremony) that give food to the ghosts emblematically and then give the food to the people.

Think this is old-style? How about deities dancing with electronic music? In an ancient story, the third prince (Nézhā) is a naughty boy. In recent years, the third prince is the first deity embrace electronic music and dance. In Siddhartha's blog, some people left messages to support this change, while some people disliked it.

About reviving traditional ceremonies, cwyuni has another idea:

我覺得有使命為平常有拜有保庇的眾神明挺身而出,策劃一系列年輕人也可以同樂的節慶活動。建議下回三太子李哪吒作壽或是媽祖她老人家出巡, 我們不妨齊聚全省各大廟宇倒數,過了午夜大啖素雞素鴨或大茂黑瓜以示慶祝,罐頭山旁邊捻一炷清香互送「永保安康」車票祈福,最後嚼兩片旺旺仙貝,張開雙臂 對天空大喊一聲「旺旺!」取代「Happy New Year!」或是「Merry Xmas!」

I feel I have the responsibility to stand out for the deities who protect us. I should plan a series of festival activities that young people will enjoy. I propose that next time when the third prince has his birthday or Ma-Tsu begins her patrol, we should gather in the temples to count down. After midnight, we can celebrate by eating the food that worshiped the deities. We can take the incense besides the can-mountains and give each other a train ticket from Yung-Pao to An-Kang (meant for ‘be peace and healthy forever). At last, we can eat two pieces of Wang-Wang cookies, raise hands toward the sky, and shout ‘Wang-Wang’ (meant for prosperity) instead of ‘Happy New Year’ or ‘Merry Xmas'!

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