New Year's Firecrackers in Neihu

Every year on the fifteenth and final day of the lunar new year a small temple in Neihu fills the winter night with massive columns of smoke and fire while packs of people crowd into the narrow lanes west of the BiHu park. It's loud, smoky, and a little bit dangerous in all the ways you'd expect a good Chinese New Year festival to be.

Plumes of smoke and fire make for good times

Many years ago when I'd first arrived in Taiwan I got brought to this this festival on a whim by a friend who thought it'd impress me. And impress it most certainly did.  For many people being in Taiwan during Chinese New Year is a little bit of a letdown compared to western expectations about the holiday. Neihu's take on the lantern festival is certainly a welcome nod to the noisy parade you were expecting to see.

Selfies at the tiny temple on Neihu Road which hosts the event.

For those only spending one new year in Taipei there is a choice to be made between this firecracker extravaganza in Neihu and the far more popular lantern festival in Pingxi. The lanterns are cool to do once, but getting into and out of the tiny villages can be a bit of a pain. The firecrackers can be accessed via Neihu MRT, and then just following your ears northward to the big show.

People from the temple bring out the land god to bless the neighborhood for the new year. Everywhere the land god goes it needs to be hot and loud to make sure he stays happy, safe, and comfortable. The answer to his specific needs is to constantly douse his palanquin in firecrackers and to keep moving him over flaming embers if he needs to travel long distances.

Anyone in the neighborhood seeking good luck for the year can get the palanquin to stop at their door. They prepare box loads of firecrackers ahead of time which are then torched in one go and make quite a good show. It's hot, loud, and messy with red firecracker papers flying everywhere. People will often jump over the small paper fires which get left behind as another measure of good luck, and visitors shouldn't be afraid to traipse into the steaming heaps and get their shoes a little dusty. You know, for luck!

Post-palanquin fires of good luck!

Stores set up early and get creative. This firecracker trellis says it all.

If you show up for the event you'll be following - or running from - the burning box and revel in the heat, sound, and smoke which come from the countless firecrackers. Then you do it again, and again, and again. It's advised you wear a hat and a surgical mask to avoid having red paper in your hair and to filter out some of the larger bits of debris from the air. The firecrackers tend to shoot out in all directions as they detonate, so don't get too close if you don't have a way to keep your eyes from getting hit. For what its worth the people working the palanquin themselves all turn away to keep their faces out of the line of fire.

Bit blurry, but, you get the point.

Everything gets covered in flaming red paper.

The best place to see the show if you don't want to smell like smoke and be pelted with explosives is on Neihu Road as the procession makes it way back to the temple. The street is wider and offers great long distance viewing, although it also draws far larger crowds.

The event is always on the fifteenth day of the lunar year, and it starts around 8pm. It's called 元宵節 in Chinese, but in English its just called the lantern festival. The alleys fill up as the night goes on so your chances of getting a front row spot go down as the night goes on. The festivities usually wrap up around 10pm and surprisingly the streets are clean nearly instantly after the procession passes.

People cleaning the streets moments after the palanquin passes by.

Keep your wits about you because you may accidentally be standing on a string of live firecrackers or be in the way of the procession which doesn't slow down its pace if you're not ready. Most importantly, have fun!