Taiwan Burning: Ghost Month on Ilha Formosa

Feature, Taiwan, Travelogue — By on August 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm

The seventh lunar month here in Taiwan is known as Ghost Month.  Rituals are held throughout the month, typically in late summer. However on Ghost Day, the doors of both heaven and hell are open, allowing ghosts to wonder among the living. Traditionally, people here are very superstitious during this month, avoiding swimming, traveling, and revealing their address to ghosts. People pray for those poor souls left to wander the afterlife with no ancestors left to pray for them or send them ghost money needed to purchase things in the afterlife, and ward off bad luck by offering lavish arrays of food and drink, praying, and burning fake ghost money. Like most Taiwanese festivals, food plays a big role: the food and drink typically consist of a lot of fruit, vegetables, cookies, sweets, soda and tea.  It is merely an offering and a show of good intentions and is not actually consumed by the ghosts (in case you were wondering). The lucky living get to feast on the goodies afterwards. Traditionally, paper lanterns are also lit and sent skyward to light the way and show the direction to absolved spirits transferring from hell to heaven during this time when the door is open.

Fake money is burned and food is laid out for spirits many times throughout the year in accordance with the lunar calendar, but Ghost Month and particularly Ghost Day is the grand daddy of them all.  It is much like westerners consuming candy many times throughout the year until the feeding frenzy when the candy mother ship comes calling on October 31st.  Typically, a table or tables are set up in front of the home, business or apartment building and food is laid out in a colorful arrangement, incense are lit and a steel cauldron resembling a medium size trash can is wheeled out in front of the table, or a makeshift fire pit is made, so that stacks upon stacks of fake yellow ghost money can be burnt.  Black plumes of smoke are seen billowing from street sides everywhere, making the air very hard to breathe. Since more than 90% of the population here are either Buddhist or Taoist, that means over twenty million people on this tiny island are burning stacks of paper at roughly the same time (Buddhist and Taoist ghost day falls on different days, but around the same time), even when most days reach a sweltering 36C degrees.

Makeshift fire pit for burning ghost money. Fongshan City, Taiwan.

Makeshift fire pit for burning ghost money. Fongshan City, Taiwan.

Nowadays, the festivities and superstitions are taken less seriously by younger generations, although they still take part in the ceremonies. The food laid has more to do with not needing an excuse to pig out on junk food, again, much like our Halloween. You will see a lot of chocolate bars and Oreo cookies and Coke, since the ones who will enjoy the food are the same people that paid for it with real money.  There are companies here that produce and distribute the yellow ghost money, and with twenty-plus million folks burning it on a monthly basis, I would imagine business is good.  I just wish they could produce something that millions of people could burn that didn’t insult the lungs and still somehow managed to appease the wandering souls. For more information on ghost month in Taiwan, click here.

Pigs are a traditional part of the Ghost Month feast, and you can literally see horse-sized pigs in parts of Taiwan during ghost month. Pigs are injected with water to bloat them to massive proportions. This pig, in Fongshan City, is relatively small.

Another unlucky fellow sacrificed to appease the spirit world. Fonghshan City, Taiwan.

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    1 Comment

  • BUZZ says:

    I love that you still update the site & it is good to know that you are both good & having a great time exploring.

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