Ten Festivals Worth Planning your Taiwan Holiday around (Part one)

From religious to secular, local to national, pious to irreverent, Taiwan is an island of festivals.Some are ancient, with origins stretching back in time into the days when history and legend begin to blur, while others have their origins in more modern events.

Regardless of their origins, all Taiwanese festivals share a few commonalities:

1) Noise: The concept of Re Nao (hot noise) is important in Taiwan, and whether the affair is pious or irreverent, it’s a safe bet it’ll be noisy. (Bring earplugs!)

2) Food: There will be lots of it. Some festivals are even associated with particular dishes. (Bring an appetite!)

3) Crowds: Taiwanese festivals – even the religious ones – are public events that draw guests from near and far. All are welcome. (Bring yourself!)

Finally, most Taiwanese festivals are based on a lunar calendar, making it kind of hard to pin them to a specific date on a year by year basis. Feel free leave a message in the comments box below this post for specific dates on upcoming festivals.

Lets start with a look at a few of Taiwan’s best known traditional festivals taking place in the first half of the year:

1.Lunar New Year Festival

When: First week of lunar calendar

Where: Island wide

The Celebration: This is the big Kahuna of holidays throughout the Chinese-speaking world, and while it’s traditionally a time where Taiwanese people go home to hang out with their families, it’s also an excellent time to visit Taiwan, as there are festivities all around the island.

Insider tip: In the weeks leading up to the main holiday, Dihua Street, in Taipei’s Dadaocheng neighborhood is an absolute must-visit as merchants in the area try to outdo each other in generosity by offering free samples of traditional (and usually expensive) snacks.

photo credit to Taiwan Tourism Bureau

2.Lantern Festival

When: Starting on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month

Where: The main festival moves every year, but every town has its own smaller festival.

The Celebration: The Lantern Festival is sort of a grand finale for the New Years festival, held to symbolize the coming of spring.  Expect to see thousands of colorful lanterns from small to gargantuan, with themes drawn from legends, fables and pop culture.
Read more: Lantern Festivals, Rice Dumplings, and Other Taiwanese Traditions

photo credit to Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Insider Tip: Interested in taking an exclusive, offered one day a year only tour to experience the magic of the Pingxi Lantern Festival?  Click here to learn about our Jiufen and Pingxi Day Tour & Sky Lantern Festival Experience!

photo credit to Taiwan Tourism Bureau

3.Beehive Bottle Rocket Festival

When: 15th and 16th day of 1st lunar month

Where: Yanshui Township, Tainan County

The Celebration: This festival celebrates the ending of a cholera epidemic in the town during the late Qing in which the evil spirits were driven out through judicious application of explosives. Consistently listed among the world’s most dangerous festivals, the event draws tens of thousands annually to the usually-quiet town to run, stand and jump around in insanely close proximity to multi-story boxes (called castles) on which even more thousands of of bottle rockets are strategically placed and ignited throughout the night.

Insider Tip: Two words…protective gear. Seriously!  This film from Lonely Planet from the event in 2012 has some tips for dressing for the festival.

photo credit to Taiwan Tourism Bureau

4.Mazu’s Birthday

When: 23rd day, 3rd lunar month

Where: Any major coastal town in Taiwan

The Celebration: Mazu is the goddess of the sea, so naturally her special day is cause for major celebration anyplace bordering the sea (which in Taiwan is almost everywhere). Expect fireworks and a massive procession featuring dancers and acrobats dressed in traditional costumes marching alongside an ornately designed (often ancient) palanquin on which a statue of the goddess herself is carried through the crowd.
Read more: The Mazu Pilgrimage Experience

Insider Tip: Lugang and Jingshan both have excellent Mazu festivals, as does the island of Matsu (naturally).

photo credit to Taiwan Tourism Bureau

5.Dragon Boat Festival

When: 5th day, 5th lunar month

Where: Various rivers around Taiwan.

The Celebration: This colorful, cheerful boat racing festival has its origins in a poet’s suicide.

Qu Yuan was a Scholar from the kingdom of Chu during China’s warring states period who chose to drown himself rather than face dishonor. As the story goes, the people of Chu first swept the river with boats to attempt to save him, and then dropped delicately cooked rice dumplings into the river itself as an offering.  For this reason, zhongzhi, leaf-wrapped rice dumplings, are the traditional food to eat around festival time.
Read more: Gods Rush In at the King Boat Festival

Insider Tip: In Taipei, both Bitan in the Xindian district and Dajia Hebing Park in the Neihu district are excellent places to watch the dragon boat races.

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Next Week: Summer and Autumn Holidays Galore!

Continue reading: Ten Festivals Worth Planning your Taiwan Holiday around (Part two)