No.2-1, Zhengqi Rd., Taitung City, Taitung County 950, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
Chinese New Year taking place from the last to the fifth day of the lunar calendar is the most important time of the year for Taiwanese people. Normally, it is a busy time for everyone as there are formalities to be observed over the period. For example, friends and family must be visited, ancestors must be prayed for and offered sacrifices, red envelopes filled with money must be given to family… But, given it is the only extended holiday in Taiwan’s yearlong calendar, locals tend to travel abroad these days. Plus, due to the fact that firecrackers are banned in the cities, Chinese New Year is feeling less and less festive. However, the convivial Lantern Festival will make up for it, which tends to fall in mid-February (the fifteenth day of the lunar calendar). On the day of Lantern Festival, celebrations take place all over the country, and three major events are especially worth noting: sending off sky lanterns in the north, setting off beehive fireworks in the south, and bombing Lord Handan in the east.
Bombing Lord Handan is an important folk event in Taitung. Lord Handan (played by a real person!) is paraded through the streets wearing nothing but red shorts and a towel around his head while local shops throw bricks of firecrackers at his near naked body. It is believed the greater the amount of firecrackers thrown will bring greater fortune in the coming year.
Lord Handan is considered a god of wealth, one of Wulu Caishen (五路財神) and not fond of cold weather. The bombing is said to help keep him warm. Others believe that Lord Handan used to be an outlaw gang member, who decided to atone for his sins by letting locals throwing firecrackers at him — he then became a god of wealth.
In the early years, there were only two guardians on the side that swept off the firecrackers from Lord Handan with brooms. Rumor has it that during the 1950s, Lord Handan accidentally bumped into a tree when he was out on the parade, so he grabbed a random sprig of banyan leaves to shield himself from the exploding firecrackers. That probably explains why Lord Handan is now seen holding a sprig of banyan leaves during the parade.
The festival has become a government endorsed cultural festival. During the day, the Black and White Impermanence (two deities in charge of escorting the spirits of the dead to the Underworld) will be marching around the city of Taitung, accompanied by many different kinds of trucks that have been converted into wheeled, neon-lit platforms, typically moving stages, upon which pole dancers can perform as the vehicles participate in the celebration. When the night falls, streets and plazas are lit with lanterns hung, sometimes with dazzling fireworks lighting up the sky over the city — it is almost like a carnival. But please be sure to consider your own safety before looking for these adrenaline rushes as this firecrackers we are talking about here. The experienced participants would wear surgical masks (no need to freak out — they are extraordinarily common here) to protect themselves from the heavy smoke of the firecrackers. Well, now you know how to look like a local and fit right in during the Bombing Lord Handan in Taitung.