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Saturday, February 25, 2017

End of Chinese New Year god Parade

Xuan-Xiao Jie is the lantern festival in Taiwan marking the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations.  Lanterns are lit and sent off in various villages around the island.  This year we were invited to visit a god parade in a small town just outside of Taipei.  Our small group were the only white faces present.  The parade followed a circular road on the edge of the mountains.  The beating of drums, whine of the traditional horns and banging cymbals helped us find our way off the mountain trail and into the village.  The celebration was just beginning.

We've stumbled across god parades in the city before.  Sometimes it's a group of 4 people carrying their god around with some loud music playing and other times the parade is large and long, full of music, people dressed as gods, firecrackers and drums.  This parade was the most intense gathering I've yet seen.  Single file, the vehicles snaked along the road while spectators walked alongside.


The mix of elements in this parade was wide.  There are four large plastic headed gods that often make appearances at god parades, they walked between the cars.  At the beginning of the parade, jeeps with speakers were blasting very, very loud music.  The dragon in important in Chinese symbolism for strength and power.  The dragon is typically a colorful ornamentation made of ceramic tiles on temples.  A group of boys wove the long fabric dragon back and forth.  It's fun to watch the boys holding the poles to the snaking body because they move in unison, yet each have their own movement to make the dragon flow.  Tables in front of homes were laden with fruit and other gifts as sacrifice to the god that would be coming.  People walked up to the offering tables, lit a handful of incense then passed it out to the crowd.

We were quite surprised when two jeeps came around the bend with a pole and dancer on top.  I'm not kidding.  It was shocking and baffling.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this, so I've done a lot of asking to try to understand.  The secretary in Chad's office was rather embarrassed.  She said the practice began in southern Taiwan.  She got quiet then sort of whispered in my ear that men like this sort of thing, therefore they have the girls in the parade.  Pole dancers are not uncommon in funeral processions here.  In January a politician died and the news reported 50 pole dancers as part of the funeral procession.  When I asked a co-worker of mine, she said men find pleasure in the dancers and want to share what pleases them with their god so the god can find pleasure too.  Apparently the jeeps stop at the homes of large financial donors to the local temple and the dancers go in and give the donor a private show.  

Taoism is an eastern religion with many gods.  Each temple has their own god.  This is what I've seen paraded around the city at various times.  Little parades to celebrate the god's birthday.  The god sits on this portable alter with 4 poles for transport.  The carriers rock the alter back and forth while they walk causing the flags on the back to flutter.  Each time the parade stopped, the god and alter were set in a central spot.  Firecrackers were lit (in this photo you see the paper from the firecrackers), people brought innocence and offerings to the god, dipping their head several times while praying.


Fireworks and firecrackers are a main part of the celebration.  I've never seen a fireworks display as large and crazy as this.  At home we arrive for the 4th of July fireworks an hour early, stake out our spot, put out a blanket and lay on our backs gazing at the stars while we wait for fireworks to begin.  After 10 minutes, 15 if we're lucky, the 5 minute grand finale begins.  We ohh and ahh, pleased with how beautiful and grand the display was this year, then fight traffic to get home.  

The only way I know how to describe these fireworks are 3 hours (yes, hours) of straight grand finale.  There were large traditional fireworks lighting up the sky.  There were ground rockets that sent streams of fire high into the sky, and there were reels and reels of firecrackers.  Boxes of unused fireworks were haphazardly stacked on the side.  Needless to say, safety was not a major concern.  Men picked up ropes of firecrackers, threw them on the ground in front of the god, lit them and walked away.  About 10 canisters of the large fireworks were placed on a cement ledge then two guys with blow torches lit them and backed up.  After they went off, they knocked the empty canisters over the edge and ran to replace them with 10 more canisters which they immediately lit.  On and on the chaos continued.  We left after three hours, long before the boxes were empty.

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