I was recently lucky enough to experience one of the very local, very folkish Taiwanese religious festivals. On the last day of the Lunar New Year holiday, a certain neighborhood in Neihu (Taipei City), Taiwan celebrates the Earth God, Tudi Gong (土地公). For more than one hundred years, the local business have prayed to this Daoist God for wealth and a prosperous new year.
The do this in a way that might seem quite odd to most people. They pile boxes and boxes of firecrackers on his palankeen (yeah, that’s a new word for me, too), and then basically do their best to blow him up. They do this over and over again in front of all the neighborhood business all night long, making for quite a spectacle.
Tudi Gong is the God of the Earth. He’s everyone’s local God and the most approachable of the heavenly deities. In older times, every village would have a temple dedicated to him and pray to him in times of drought or famine. He’s actually still quite popular in Taiwan and shrines to him are quite common.
After a bit of research, I haven’t been able to find out why he likes to have firecrackers blown up all around him, but I don’t really care, it’s a lot of fun anyway.