During the seventh lunar month, Keelung is host to Taiwan's most renowned Ghost Festival, a fascinating mix of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs and rituals. The festival lasts the entire month (usually August or September), and each year a different Keelung clan is chosen to sponsor the events. Highlights include folk-art performances, the opening of the Gates of Hell and the release of burning water lanterns.
Keelung's festival began in the mid-19th century as a way to bridge the rift between feuding groups of Hoklo immigrants. However, the belief in ghost month is widespread in Chinese culture. According to popular beliefs, during this month 'hungry spirits' (or 'good brethren' as they are also called) roam the earth and must be appeased and sated with elaborate banquets, festivities and a whole lot of ghost paper burning (asthmatics should seriously be very careful around this time).
The main events are as follows:
Day 1 The Gates of Hell are opened at noon at Laodagong Temple, west of Keelung Harbour.
Day 12 Lights are lit on the main altar of Chupu Temple (主普壇), the temple that overlooks Keelung Harbour from Zhongzheng Park.
Day 13 A large parade throughout downtown Keelung honours the 15 clans involved.
Day 14 An elaborate lantern release ceremony takes place (this is Ghost Month's main event). The ceremony begins with an evening street parade of floats which slowly make their way to Badouzi Harbour, southeast of downtown. Sometime around midnight (technically the 15th day so don't be misled by tourism information and show up later on that day) water lanterns shaped like houses and stuffed with ghost paper are released into the harbour and set alight.
Day 15 During the day, temples and private households hold Pudu rituals, in essence sacrificial offerings to deliver the wandering spirits from their suffering. You will see piles of food and money outside people's homes. The largest rites are held at Chupu Temple at 5pm. Late at night a Taoist priest also performs a ghost-expelling dance to remind ghosts they should return to their world after the end of the month.
Day 1, eighth lunar month At 5pm, the Gates of Hell are shut again at Laodagong Temple. According to folklore experts, the gates are closed on the first day of the eighth month to allow for potential tardy spirits.