Around the world, spectacular fireworks displays erupt to celebrate the New Year every January 1. In the United States, people revel in red, white, and blue explosions in the sky every Fourth of July. Also impressive are the Chinese New Year fireworks celebrations. However, whereas all the other fireworks displays involve watching at a distance, Taiwan celebrates Lantern Festival literally in the midst of fireworks.
Lantern Festival is the celebration to conclude Chinese New Year. Additionally, it coincides with Valentine’s Day around the world. Over the weekend, Taiwan, like many Asian countries, marked the occasion with a large and beautiful ceremony. In New Taipei, thousands of people wrote their wishes on red paper. They then turned the paper into lanterns and released them into the night sky. The candles inside glowed softly in the night as quiet and peace washed over the participants.
Meanwhile, in Taitung City, also on the island of Taiwan, one man wondered about his life choices. During the “Bombing of Master Handan,” one man from the community volunteers to serve as the target of the event. Lord Handan is a local deity associated with prosperity and wealth. However, the god fears the cold. In an attempt to gain Handan’s good favor by warming him up, residents bombard the volunteer with fireworks. These are big fireworks, not little sparklers. Meanwhile, the volunteer stands on a wooden sedan. Wearing red shorts, a bandana, and a yellow scarf, he stands bare chested as fireworks bombs strike his skin. The ceremony goes on for half an hour. Once Handan is “warmed up,” residents enjoy a more traditional fireworks display fired into the sky. Although once banned due to the dangers of the bombardment, the “Bombing of Master Handan” shows no signs of stopping.
Not to be overdone, residents of Yanshui, a mere 250km away, scoff at the celebration in Taitung City. Whereas that celebration shoots fireworks at only one person, the Yanshui Beehive Rocket Festival has multiple targets. With the help of corporate sponsors, residents construct “beehives.” These platforms end up launching over 600,000 fireworks in two directions. Standing around and between the “beehives” are thousands of participants. However, unlike the activity in Taitung City, participants in Yanshui wear earplugs, non-flammable clothing, and motorcycle helmets.
The origins of the Yanshui Beehive Festival go back to the nineteenth century. A terrible cholera outbreak ravaged the community until a shaman at the Da Tzung Temple summoned Guan Gong. As the god of war, Guan Gong agreed to end the outbreak of disease if the residents honored his arrival with fireworks. The event is now the third largest, and certainly one of the weirdest, folk festivals in the world.