Thu, Feb 05, 2009 - Page 13 News List

Yehliu takes the plunge for Lantern festival

The coastal village of Yehliu is best known for its scenic rock formations, but an unusual Lantern Festival tradition offers another reason to visit

By David Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

VIEW THIS PAGE Like many cities, towns and villages in Taiwan, Yehliu (野柳) is getting ready to celebrate Lantern Festival (元宵節) on Monday with concerts, fireworks and a luminous display of lanterns. But this scenic north coast village near Keelung (基隆) — best known for its striking rock formations — celebrates with an unusual tradition that includes a cold swim in the harbor and a walk over embers.

The ceremony takes place on Monday morning and is the feature event of the Cleansing of the Harbor Festival (台北縣野柳神明淨港文化祭), which is being sponsored jointly by the Taipei County Government (台北縣政府), Wanli Township (萬里鄉) and Yehliu’s Baoan Temple (保安宮).

As the festival’s Web site explains, the ceremony represents an appeal to the gods for “tranquility” and “safety” at the harbor neighboring Baoan Temple.

According to local legend, more than a century ago, a shipload of merchants perished when their boat sank after hitting a reef as it approached the shore. Since then, villagers have worshipped a number of deities, among them Sagely King Kai Zhang (開漳聖王), to provide protection around the harbor.

In one of the main rituals, devotees chosen by Baoan Temple — mostly local youths — take the gods on a swim, so to speak, to “cleanse” the harbor waters.

Statues of several deities are placed in seven or eight palanquins, each made of a chair affixed to two bamboo poles. Holding the palanquins by the poles, some 20 to 30 devotees make a running charge off the harbor dock and swim to another port roughly 100m away.

After their swim, they move onto the “firewalking” ritual, walking barefoot over a bed of smoldering embers made from wood chips and popping firecrackers while carrying the palanquins.

The ceremony is considered a baptism of sorts for the New Year. As the festival’s Web site puts it, by “entering the water and emerging from the fire,” the gods ensure safe passage for boats, as well as a plentiful catch for fishermen in the coming year.

Festival spokesperson Stacy Tseng (曾芃茵) said last year’s ceremony attracted some 1,000 people, but organizers are expecting this number to increase to over 5,000 from this Saturday to Monday. The Taipei County Government, which is sponsoring the festival for the first time, has planned more tourism related activities and events.

Saturday’s events include a public “plunge” from the harbor for those who want to experience the cleansing ritual for themselves. Registration is closed as of press time, but there will be other events, including a seafood buffet lunch special for NT$200 per person and a cooking demonstration in the late afternoon. On Sunday a lantern-lighting ceremony is scheduled to take place at 6:20pm, followed by a Japanese dance performance and a set by taike (台客) rockers the Clippers (夾子大樂隊).

All events take place near Baoan Temple. If you want to catch the official ceremony on Monday, plan for an early day, as the events start at 8:30am.VIEW THIS PAGE

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