The whistle blew, people strapped their helmets down, and thousands of fireworks exploded above us, beneath us, and on us! At first it wasn't so bad until one hit my leg, then my arm, and pretty soon I couldn't run away out of fear of being struck worse.
So I tucked my head down and began running in place like everyone else to ease the impact of the fireworks. I had no idea where my boyfriend or friends were now. I was too afraid to lift my head out of fear of a firework penetrating the opening of my helmet. So I huddled against complete strangers for protection. Of course, being in the direct line of fire, no one could escape.
After a solid minute of this terrifying experience, my mind started thinking the absolute worse. The smoke had thickened, it was difficult to breathe, and when I opened my eyes all I saw was fire. I honestly thought something had gone horribly wrong with this tradition and that we would all die.
My first thought was regret for ever having moved to Taiwan. As I looked around I thought I saw people literally on fire and that I was next. I started thinking about all the risky adventures I've volunteered myself for, and how I should have listened to my Mom lol. I could hear voice in my head saying, "Oh my gosh, what were you thinking Megan?”
When I realized that I couldn't get out of this fire pit, a surge of peace came over me. I think I accepted death in that moment. Maybe it's because everyone around me was still standing there taking the hits. Or maybe all the thick smoke had gotten to my head.
I thought I knew what I was walking into, but was shocked by the real intensity of the experience. I only agreed to participate when one of my friends who is terrified of paintball, said the firework hits are not so bad. Ha.. Ha! Come to find out, of all the firework castles they've stood in front of over the years, THIS ONE was the most extreme!
When the bottle rockets finally stopped, I wanted to cry. But I couldn't because my adrenaline was pumping and invigorating my entire body. After watching the video above, you are probably thinking I am crazy for participating. I won't disagree with you. But this event is growing more popular, so much that they have extended it to two nights rather than the traditional one night. After learning of the deep rooted history of the festival, I feel grateful I got to experience such a thrill. So what is it about this risky tradition that brings thousands of people together each year?
A Brief History
The Taiwan Lantern Festival is celebrated annually on the first full moon day of the New Year, or the 15th day of the first lunar month. It’s the grand finale to the Chinese New year celebrations. People gather with family and participate in many festivals to welcome the new year with prosperity, peace, and good luck. The most popular events include the Sky Lantern Festival in New Taipei City, the Bombing Lord Han Dan in Taitung, and the Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival in Tainan. There are beautiful lanterns in all shapes and sizes. Some are sent soaring into the sky never to be seen again, and others elegantly decorate sidewalks and rivers.
This year we participated in the Beehive Rocket festivities in the Yanshui district. This tradition dates back to 1885 when a cholera plague swept through the town, killing more and more people everyday. A fear and panic amongst the people ignited prayers to Lord Guan Yu (Kuan Kung), the god of war, to spare them. Their prayers were answered when Guan Yu ordered the townspeople to carry his statue in a parade through the streets of the town while lighting off an abundance of fireworks. This allowed the Gods of heaven to inspect the land and soon after the exhilarating event, the plague was gone and the town was saved! Thus began this important tradition to celebrate blessings from lord Guan Yu.
Nowadays the Wu Temple hosts the event and thousands of people gather every year for what is now known as the Beehive Firework Festival. Many local temples of the town participate by building their own wood-and-iron made structures packed wit thousands of bottle rockets. My Taiwanese friend calls these ammo-loaded towers “castles”. The temples take a lot of pride in their contribution of a castle, and the more fireworks stacked inside the better. While walking through the streets of Yanshui, one temple revealed their hidden castle inviting me to take pictures!
The Beehive Festival in Tainan is said to be the 5th most dangerous festival in the world! And for a good reason. Participants of the excitement will dress in layers of clothes, homemade fireproof capes, and scooter helmets for protection. They stand with their backs towards the castle waiting for a “baptism of fireworks”. Once ignited, thousands of rockets zoom out in all directions filling the air with sparks and a booming bee-like sound.
As someone who’s been in the direct line of fire, I can say it’s both thrilling and terrifying. The tradition not only rids disease and misfortune from participants, but getting hit by many fireworks is said to be good luck in the year to come. I guess this will be my luckiest year yet!