The Ghost Festival, also known as the Chung Yuan Festival, is observed on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. According to legend, it is the day that the Ruler of the Earth pardons the sins of humanity. It is believed that the gates of hell are opened on the first day of the 7th lunar month to allow the ghosts and spirits of the nether realm, including those of deceased ancestors, into the world of the living to enjoy sacrificial offerings until the end of the month.
As one of the 12 major festivals in Taiwan, the Keelung Ghost Festival is the most extravagant one. It can be traced back to a feud during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In the clan conflict, many people were killed. After a truce was finally agreed upon in 1855, the 15 most influential clans in Keelung have taken turns hosting the annual celebration to placate the souls of their dead ancestors since 1856.
The main altar overlooking Keelung harbor from Zhongzheng Park is decorated with colorful lighting during the festival. It is lit up in the evening to symbolize the brightness of the world of the living, and to entice the roaming spirit to enjoy the sacrificial offerings during the event.
The 2016 Keelung Ghost Festival was hosted by the Cheng (鄭) family. The parade marking the festival was held on the 14th day of the 7th lunar month, which fell on August 16 this year. Around 100 teams from 29 organizations participated in the magnificent parade.
In addition to a variety of spectacular folk performances, there were about 30 colorfully-decorated floats, showcasing six different themes, provided by 15 major clans and various organizations. One of the features of the festival this year was that the Hakka group, an aboriginal group, and the new immigrant group were invited to participate in the event.
Another highlight of the festival is the burning ritual of a sacrificial king boat and water lanterns, which was held right after the grand parade at the seashore on the outskirts of Keelung. It signifies giving directions to the roaming ghosts and spirits of their ancestors and other deities.
Legend has it that the farther away a lamp floats on the sea before it extinguishes, the luckier that family will be during the year.
The final ritual of the festival is the closure of the gates of hell. It will be held at the Lao-Da-Gong Temple in Keelung City at the end of the 7th lunar month, which falls on August 31. Once the gates are closed, all the festival activities will come to an end.