1Keelung Zhongyuan Festival Eve
Every year on the 29th day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival kicks off with the lantern-lighting ceremony. It ends on first day of the eighth month with the door-closing ceremony and copper pot transfer ceremony. The entire festival consists of 15 events in total over a span of 32 days.
I. Twenty-ninth day of the sixth lunar month at 11:00 p.m.: Lights-On Night (kaidengye)
A lantern-lighting (qǐdēngjiǎo) ceremony is held at midnight to guide ghosts and spirits to the world of the living to enjoy a feast prepared for them. (Location: Laodagong Temple)
II. First day of the seventh month at 2:00 p.m.: Door-Opening Ceremony (kāikānmén)
Conducted by the kinship association representative serving as the salvation master each year, the ceremony is symbolic of the spirits leaving the realm of the dead and entering the world of the living. It also marks the official beginning of Chinese traditional Ghost Month (guǐyuè). (Location: Laodagong Temple)
III. Fourth day of the seventh month at 10:00 a.m.: Offerings Ceremony at the French Cemetery in Keelung
(Location: The Sino-French War Relic)
IV. Ninth day of the seventh month: Lantern Delivery and Worship (sòngdēng xiànjìng)
V. Eleventh day of the seventh month at 9:00 a.m.: Bamboo Lantern Pole-Raising (shùdēnggāo)
Whole bamboo plants, which have been grown in direct sunlight, are selected and placed in front of the Main Salvation Altar as an invitation to ghosts still lingering in the world to come and prepare to pass across to the afterlife. The whole bamboos symbolize good beginnings and ends in all aspects of life, while the bamboo sections represent steps moving forward and upwards.
VI. Twelfth day of the seventh month at 7:00 p.m.: Lantern Lighting Ceremony at the Salvation Altar (kāidēngfàngcǎi)
The lanterns light the way for ghosts to return to the world of the living and enjoy a feast. This feast is held especially for the spirits of the ancestors who lost their lives in the armed conflicts between settlers from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou Cities, and non-locals who passed away in Keelung City due to local diseases or other illnesses.
VII. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 2:00 p.m.: The Lantern Parade (yíngdòudēng)
The kinship associations hold a parade in Keelung City, exhibiting dipper lanterns bearing the clan surnames, before going to worship at Keelung Ching-An Temple.
VIII. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 9:00 a.m.: Passage Ceremony Announcement
Location: Salvation Altar
IX. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 7:00 p.m.: Water Lantern Parade
Location: Keelung City
X. Fourteenth day of the seventh month at 11:00 p.m.: Releasing of the Water Lanterns
(Location: The seafront at Wanghai Alley)
XI. Fifteenth day of the seventh month at 11:00 a.m.: Birthday Celebration Ceremony for the Earth Emperor
(Location: Main Salvation Altar)
XII. Fifteenth day of the seventh month at 7:00 p.m.: The Zhongyuan Passage Ceremony (pǔdù)
(Location: Salvation Altar)
XIII. Fifteenth day of the seventh month at 11:00 p.m.: Farewell to Wandering Ghosts (sònggū) or The Demon-Queller Dance (tiàozhōngkuí )
(Location: Main Salvation Altar)
XIV. First day of the eight month at 5:00 p.m.: Door-Closing Ceremony (guānkānmén)
The salvation master records the name of the person closing the doors and the date of the ceremony. The metal door is shut first, followed by the wooden door on the outside. This signals a successful end to the Keelung Zhongyuan Festival.
(Location: Laodagong Temple)
XV. First day of the eighth month at 6:30 p.m.: Hand-Held Pot Heater Transfer Ceremony(jiāojiēshǒulú)
(Location: Ching-An Temple)
*All dates listed above are reckoned according to the lunar calendar. Dates in the Western calendar will vary, so please be sure to check before you go!
2The Main Salvation Altar (zhǔpǔtán)
Constructed in 1976, the Main Salvation Altar is located atop Shitou Hill in Keelung City’s Chung Cheng Park. It is also where the highlight of Keelung Zhongyuan Festival—the Zhongyuan Passage Ceremony (pǔdù)—takes place. The main altar tower is four storeys high, formed from three tiers in the shape of an octagonal pagoda rising from the first-storey base. There are also two hexagonally-shaped wing towers on either side of the central tower. The building’s exterior design is inspired by traditional Chinese architecture, with the eaves of the roof protruding in a beautiful arc. The top of the tower also happens to be the best place for visitors to enjoy a clear view over the Port of Keelung. Approximately a month before the Zhongyuan Festival each year, the kinship association responsible builds traditional Chinese-style wood arches (páilóu) around the Main Salvation Altar, matching it in height to present a “tower-on-tower” design. A set of stairs is placed in front of the altar for the Taoist priest to ascend to the altar. Temporary accommodations for visiting ghosts are also erected. The decorations include five different colors of LED lights outlining the arches. Fiberglass is used to create dragon columns and wood is crafted to display auspicious wishes, such as “Happy Ullambana Festival" (Buddhist name of Zhongyuan Festival), or simply “Happy Zhongyuan Festival.” Colorful imagery such as clan surnames, dragons, and phoenixes are also on display. The altar with all of its lights turned on at night is quite a memorable sight. The Keelung Zhongyuan Festival reached its 150th anniversary in 1997. It was decided that the Main Salvation Altar would be renovated and an 80 píng (a local unit of measurement equaling 264.5 square meters) will be set aside for the construction of the Ghost Festival Museum. The museum is divided into 6 major areas: a cultural artifacts display area, a special exhibition area, a multi-media film screening room, a magic theater, an interactive games area, and a reading area. On display are many pictures and artifacts from Zhongyuan Festivals over the years, as well as an introduction to the series of ritual events held during the festival.