Although getting dressed up and wandering the streets trick or treating on Halloween is common in the US, the closest equivalent to Halloween in Hualien County’s Fonglin Township (鳳林) has been celebrated in a somewhat different manner over the years — that is, until this year.
Beilin community, a Hakka village in Fonglin, plans to depart from tradition and organize a series of events for the seventh month of the Lunar calendar, which Chinese traditionally call “Ghost Month.”
This year, “Ghost Month” starts on Aug. 17.
Legends and folklore say that the gates of the underworld are opened in the seventh month of the Lunar calendar to allow spirits to visit their families. It is normal during that period for families and businesses to prepare offerings to appease the hungry spirits.
This year, Fonglin plans to host a costume parade through the town, which is home to the highest concentration of tobacco houses in the nation and a large number of Japanese-style buildings. There will also be a drawing competition with a ghost theme.
However, the new events were initially opposed by seniors in the township, who make up about 21 percent of the population of 11,600.
Dressing up like ghosts during the Ghost Month is considered an affront to tradition and there are many taboos concerning the month that make the older generation uneasy about the innovations being -introduced this year, -Senrong Borough (森榮) warden Hsieh Yu-chen said.
However, older residents were finally persuaded by the suggestion that the new events would breathe new life into the township and attract tourists, he said.
“Despite the changes, many people still have reservations and as we have more seniors in the township, I suggest that those hosting the events first pray at the temple to at least ‘notify’ the various deities of their intent,” Hsieh said.
Shoutian Temple management committee chairman Yu Hsin-ming (余新明) said that to calm the frayed nerves of some residents, the temple would hand out protective charms and cook porridge, events common to temple festivities and said to grant protection to whoever eats the food.
However, not all the older -residents opposed the new events.
Liu Hsiu-hsia (劉秀霞), a peanut vendor, said that a version of the crown worn by Yen Wang (閻王), The King of Hell, will also be handed out to tourists so that they can better participate in events.
“We hope to establish a festival that is unique to the community, Beilin No. 3 village community development committee chairperson Lee Mei-ling (李美玲) said, adding that there would be a vote for the best costume on the day of the parade, with prize money of NT$5,000, NT$3,000 and NT$2,000 (US$70) for first, second and third place, respectively.
Everyone who shows up dressed up as a ghost will also be able to enjoy free mochi, a snack made from glutinous rice, and -Japanese-style rice-balls, Lee said.