The annual festivals of Taiwan's Chinese population, which largely originate from Fu- kien and Kwangtung provinces, are arranged round the cycle of the agricultural calendar. They reflect the rhythms of agrarian society and also incorporate the festivals and anniver- saries of many local gods and spirits. The agricultural calendar begins with the Chinese Lunar New Year (ch'un-chieh), after which the prominent festivals are the Lantern Festival (yuan-hsiao), Tomb-sweeping Festival (ch'ing-ming), Dragon Boat Festival (tuan- wu), All Souls Day (chung-yuan), Mid-Autumn Festival (chung-ch'iu), Double Ninth Festival (ch'ung-yang), Winter Solstice (tung-chih) and New Year's eve (ch'u-hsi).

On each of these occasions there take place various appropriate activities related to folk religious beliefs, including sacrifice to the ancestors, worshipping gods, and adoration of the Buddha. Such festival customs have been passed down and maintained for generations, and have even survived the half century of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan.

Ancestor worship is a traditional form of belief which is indigenous to China. The aim of ancestor worship is to focus attention on one's own departed ancestors and fulfill the demands of filial piety, as well as allowing one's ancestors to participate in the life of the living and bestow their protection upon their living descendants. Therefore in Taiwanese folk belief as much stress is placed on ancestor worship as on the worship of gods and spirits. At every annual festival and at wedding ceremonies and in mourning rites, the ancestors must be worshipped in addition to the gods.

Chinese New Year's Day
The Jade Emperor's Birthday
The Lantern Festival
First (Head) Feast
Tomb-sweeping Festival
Dragon Boat Festiva
Birthday of the Seventh Goddess
All Souls Month
Mid-Autumn Festival
Double Nine Festial
Winter Solstice
Final (Tail) Feast
Kitchen God Ascension Day
New Year's Eve

Chinese New Year's Day, or Spring Festival: 回到頁面上端

On this first day of the lunar new year, everyone lets off firecrackers from mid- night onwards in order to drive away all evil ghosts. In every household the spirit tablets of the ancestors are worshipped, as well as the household gods, and members of the family exchange formal new-year greetings. Sweet rice-cakes are eaten over the new year holiday to ensure the birth of many sons and grandsons, and as symbols of increasing pro- sperity and success. No inauspicious words may be spoken, nor any unlucky actions per- formed. On should avoid picking up any knife, breaking any utensil, eating rice con- gee, taking a midday nap, or sweeping the floor. On the second day of the new year, married women return to visit their own parents at home. Shopkeepers and business- men reopen their premises on the fifth day of the holiday, and every household distributes the sacrificial gifts offered on altars to the ancestors and spirits.

The Jade Emperor's Birthday: 回到頁面上端

This is celebrated on the ninth day of the first lunar month. the night before, the entire family fasts and washes, and after midnight everyone is led by the head of the household to worship the Jade Emperor with incense and kneeling prostrations. Red tortoise shell-shaped rice cakes are presented as offerings, red being an auspicious color and the tortoise symboliz- ing longevity. The Jade Emperor is regard- ed as the creator and sustainer of all things, an almighty God ranking above human ancestors and other spirits, the controller of the whole spirit world. Many abstinences and taboos are observed on this day, as expres- sions of respect and awe for the Jade Emperor.

The Lantern Festival: 回到頁面上端

On this day each family gathers in the morning to worship the heavenly officials, or messengers, and pray for prosperity. Small rice-flour dumplings are prepared, offered first to the ancestors and then enjoyed by the whole family in a com- munal feast, symbolizing reunion. In the even- ing, colorful lanterns are lit which are parad- ed through the streets, which come alive with dancing lions, lamp-guessing games and other festivities.
It is said that if an unmarried woman can steal some scallions from a neighbor's garden on this night, she will soon find a good husband. A woman who has had no children, moreover, can enhance her fertility by weav- ing in and out between the lamps and pray- ing for a child.

First (Head) Feast: 回到頁面上端

Falling on the second day of the second lunar month, this feast and the Final (Tail) Feast on the 16th of the 12th month form a pair.This day is considered a sort of birthday party for the T'u-ti-kung, the god of the land, for whom imitation money paper is burnt, meat sacrifices are offered and fireworks are lit. At the same time the spirits of former residents of the land are wor- shipped .Businessmen usually have a ban auet for all their employees on this day.
This day is also celebrated as the God of Culture's Birthday. Scholars and teachers give offerings to their patron on this day, and students pray to him for advance and suc cess in their studies.

Tomb-sweeping Festival: 回到頁面上端

This falls 6n the 105th day after the winter solstice, and marks the 15th day after the beginning of Spring. On this day people go out into the countryside to sweep their ancestral tombs clean, pay their respects to the dead and have a picnic by the tomb. In Taiwan those Chinese who emigrated from Chang-chou, Fukien, usually sweep their ancestral tombs on the day of the festival itself, whereas those from Ch'Oan-chou, Fukien, choose any con- venient day just before the festival. Many Hakka immigrants sweep their tombs around the time of the Lantern Festival at the close of the Chinese New Year holiday. In Taiwan it is also customary to hang and scatter col- orful rectangular paper banners on the ancestral tombs on this day, serving as a marker of the annual visit. Various offerings are made to the ancestors, which, after wor- ship, are distributed by the head of the fami- ly to all present to be shared in communion. Eggshells are also placed on the tomb, to symbolize the eternal force of life ushering out the old and welcoming the new, ever pushing through old limitations and creating through the successive flow of generations. The children come forward and request treats, which are then granted as an expression of the ancestors' kindness, a virtue that lives forever in the hearts of their descendants.

Dragon Boat Festival: 回到頁面上端

This takes place on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. Sprays of iris, calamus and mugwort are hung up in doorways, and people wear perfume sachets in their clothing as a talisman against harm. Drinking Hsiung-huang wine and bathing in water with calamus and mugwort in it are said to give protection against disease. According to legend this day is dedicated to the memory of Ch'O Yuan, a famous poet and minister of the ancient state of Ch'u in southern China, who is said to have drowned himself in a river in despair. Off erings were thrown into the river to appease his spirit, and to prevent these from dispersing in the water they were wrap- ped in bamboo leaves. This is the origin of the rice and meat dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves which are customarily eaten on this day.'Dragon boat races are also held on this day in various old harbours in Taiwan, particularly at Lukang, An-p'ing (Tainan), and Tamsui.

Birthday of the Seventh Goddess: 回到頁面上端

This festival falls on the seventh day of the seventh month, and celebrates the birth of the seventh guardian goddess believed to protect all children under the age of 16. Children reaching this age are "emancipated" from the goddess' supervision on this day and initiated into adulthood. The adults in the fami- ly make cakes and off eri ngs to be presented to the seventh goddess and burn a paper placard with their name on it. In addition, fresh flowers and makeup are thrown onto the roof of the house for the goddess.
This day is also celebrated as the day when the constellations of the Cow-herding Boy and the Weaving Girl meet in the sky, a kind of Chinese Valentine's Day. Normally the two are separated by the Milky Way, but on this day a flock of birds gather together to form a bridge across it, allowing them to meet. This touching legend, springing from the nature worship of the ancients, reflects the division of labor by sex in agricultural societies, where men plowed the fields and women made clothes. On this night women prepare an altar under the moonlight on which they offer fruits, flowers, makeup and sewing implements to the Weaving Girl, at the same time praying to her to grant them enhanced household skills. It is said that if lovers exchange a gift of fruit on this day, their matrimonial hopes will come to fruition.

All Souls Month: 回到頁面上端

In former times the entire seventh month was considered All Souls Month. Allthe households in the neighborhood would take turns setting up altars, and Buddhist monks and Taoist priests would conduct masses to relieve the suffer- ing of the deceased in the world of the dead. Services were conducted in temples to give offerings for wandering spirits who had no descedants to worship them.These practices were begun on the first of the month, when the gates of the underworld were opened and the spirits therein released. On the 15th it was believed that the spirits of one's ancestors returned to one's home. On the 30th the gates of the underworld are shut again, lock- ing the spirits back inside. On this night food is offered to hungry ghosts, which however the living then fight for and snatch away. On the night of the 15th it is also customary to release floating lanterns onto water for the souls of the dead. Marriages are zealously avoided in this month, for fear of accidently bringing a disguised ghost into the family.

Mid-Autumn Festival: 回到頁面上端

This festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, when the full moon is at its largest and brightest in the whole yeari The custom of going outside to admire the moon is observed in Taiwan as it is on the mainland. Each household wor- ships its family ancestors and household gods, presenting offerings of moon cakes, sacrificial wine and rice noodles. Rice noodles are eaten as a way of ensuring the protec- tion of one's ancestors and success in one's trade or profession. In the evening, most families set up an altar with joss-sticks outside in a garden or courtyard in the moonlight. On this altar are placed a pair of red candlesticks, four types of fruit, and some moon cakes. In- cense is burned in honour of the moon. This is termed 'worshipping the moon goddess'.

Double Nine Festial: 回到頁面上端

The ninth day of the ninth month, the height of autumn, is a perfect day for outdoor expeditions in the coun- tryside. It is believed that mountain climbing on this day will protect one against calamities, a concept inherited from ancient times, when the lowlands were susceptible to floods around this time. Pious ancestor worship is conducted on this day, as are expressions of respect for the elderly. In former times children would fly kites on thie day,as is reflected in the saying, "On the ninth day of the ninth month, the sky is filled with wind- blown kites, the gales roaring through them.

Winter Solstice: 回到頁面上端

This is the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, after which the days gradually grow longer. On this day every family makes red and white balls of glutinous rice for offer- ing to the gods, Buddhas and ancestors in the early morning, along with exploding firecrackers and the burning of imitation money. After the worship is completed, the whole family joins in eating the offering. Rice balls are also stuck onto doors, household utensils, wells, chicken coops, cattle pens and so on, as a reward and retribution for the year of strenuous service which these uten- sils have given. In olden days, when landlords rented land to tenant farmers, the contract was signed on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the land given to the farmer on the Winter Solstice.

Final (Tail) Feast: 回到頁面上端

This falls on the 16th of the 12th month, and is marked by the mak- ing of meat offerings to the T'u-ti-kung. businessmen usually use a rooster for this sacrifice, as a sign of flourishing business. Often this takes the form of a banquet to which all his employees are invited, to reward and thank them for a year of service. If the head of the rooster is pointed at an employee, this means he has been fired. After the offer- ing to the T'u-ti-kung, five bowls of mixed offerings are placed in the doorway, and clothes and imitation money are burned for the ghosts of former tenants of the land.

Kitchen God Ascension Day: 回到頁面上端

On this day, the 24th of the 12th month, it is believ- ed that the kitchen God of every household goes up to heaven to file his report with the Jade Emperor. Thus meat and rice balls are offered and imitation money is burned to send the Kitchen God, or God of the Stove, on his way. After,worship the rice balls are placed on the lip of the door of the stove, to sweeten the god's words in his report of the family's doings in the past year.Thus it is said, "Good words are reported to heaven, bad words are discarded on one side."Afterwards, the kit- chen is extensively swept and cleaned to sweep away bad luck; this is also a remnant of a primitive magical practice. After the sweeping, foods and accessories for the upcoming New Year's celebration are pur- chased and prepared, and banners with auspicious couplets and sayings are pasted to the doorway to attract good fortune. This practice is richly colored by ancient religious ways of thinking, combining worshipful respect for the written word with primitive beliefs in magic spells and incantations.

New Year's Eve: 回到頁面上端

This marks the transi- tion from the old year to the new, and in- cludes a number of folk rituals, as follows:

1) Bidding farewell to the old year: In the afternoon of this day, the ancestors are wor- shipped with offerings of wine and sticky new year cake. Off erings of spring rice are made to the god of the kitchen stove and the mar- riage bed. On the family altar is placed a bowl of cooked rice and a bowl of cooked meat and vegetables, over which spring flowers are arranged to ensure abundance throughout the year. Piles of oranges or tangerines, sweet rice cakes and savouries are also heaped on the altar, together with an offering of cash. At the close of the ritual, firecrackers finally bid farewell to the old year.

2) Family meal surrounding the burner: Members of the family who live elsewhere must return home for the family meal on the last evening of the old year. During the meal a charcoal burner is placed under the table and cash is laid all around it to symbolize the warmth of the approaching spring and the hoped-for increase in the family's prosperi- ty. This is known as'surrounding the burner'. All the dishes at the meal bear a symbolic meaning, such as long life, material plenty, or family unity. If any member of the family can not be present at the time, a place is left vacant for them at the meal and their old clothes are put there to indicate that the fami- ly's thoughts are with them.

3) Year's-end money: After the family meal, the senior members of the family distribute year's-end money in red packets to the junior or younger members of the family.

4) New Year vigil: After the distribution of year's-end money, the whole family sit around the charcoal burner telling jokes, reminiscing and playing cards or dice.They amuse themselves in this way until dawn, in what is termed the New Year vigil. This prac- tice is traditionally held to ensure a long life for one's parents, and so is also referred to as the vigil for longevity.

5) Pasting up New Year inscriptions: In preparation for welcoming the first day of the lunar new year, paired New Year inscriptions are pasted up on either side of the main door- way of each house. The character for 'spring' (ch'un) written in gold on red paper is pasted up on the door leaves, and a phrase mean- ing 'rare and delicious cuisine' is pasted up on the door of the larder.

6) New Year marriages: In former times it was common for people in Taiwan to foster other people's children, who while still young were betrothed to younger members of the foster family. Upon reaching maturity, the betrothed couples were married in a simple ceremony. It was usual for such weddings to take place on New Year's Eve at the end of the family meal. The head of the household would simply ask the betrothed couple to enter the room together, upon which they were considered man and wife. Since it was believed that on that evening all the gods had gone up to heaven and had not yet return- ed, it was permissible to dispense with the normal wedding formalities at this time.