TAIPEI (The China Post) — For well over 100 years, locals in the port town of Keelung have organized a spectacle in the town center known as the Water Lantern Parade.
Large open-air vehicles gather near the Tien-Liao River as the sun is almost done setting, decked to the nines with flashing, multi-colored lights, flower bouquets, and flags.
Each vehicle in the parade is customized by kinship associations, each comprised of one, two or even three surnames, and Keelung locals who share the same surname with the associations.
This year, for example, the kinship association charged with leading the processions belonged to the Bai (白) and Tong (童) households. Next year, it will be headed by the Lee (李) families.
The roots of this tradition run deep, tracing its origins all the way back to the mid-19th century when the area’s inhabitants were deeply divided between two migrant communities coming from China’s coastal Fujian province — the cities of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou.
After many bitter conflicts between the two groups, a compromise was struck in the form of these kinship associations, where locals would join together according to surname, regardless of whether hailing from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou.
The compromise was not only effective at uniting Keelung’s inhabitants, but it also helped cement this yearly tradition in the community.
Sitting in each parade vehicle are the elder heads of the kinship associations, waving at onlookers who sway, fist-pump, or even dance to the loud electronic music blasting from the vehicles.
The best spots to view the parade, which visits four temples throughout the city, are at the main observation stage right in Keelung Harbor and on the second floor of the E-Square shopping mall. Visitors should find a spot and get the camera ready by 7:30 p.m., just to play it safe.
That’s not all, though. The parade will also enter Miaokou Nightmarket (廟口夜市), so pictures can be taken at an arm’s length from each passing vehicle, while also slurping on some brown sugar boba tea or chomping down on some deliciously braised pork knuckle.
Don’t expect a solemn procession, because the Water Lantern Parade definitely aims to be a more festive event to party with the visiting ancestral spirits!