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Grand Celebrations for Mazu's Birthday

Updated: 09 Mar 2007
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People come to the temple to pay homage all year round, but the busiest day on Meizhou Island is the 23rd day of the third lunar month, Mazu's birthday. Every year, starting on about the 15th day of that month, boats and ships decorated with coloured pennants and laden with pilgrims arrive at Meizhou from all directions. By the 22nd and 23rd, everywhere on the island from the shore to the top of Mount Meifeng is packed with people. Gaily dressed, they sing and dance as they make their pilgrimage.

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Among the crowds of people there is usually a group of women whose clothes are particularly eye-catching. They wear tall, sail-shaped hairstyles and half-red, half-blue wide-legged trousers. People call them "Meizhou Women" and their outfits are said to be modelled on the costume Mazu used to wear. As Mazu is the goddess of the sea and protector of boats, her hairstyle is reminiscent of a sail, and the symbol of her identity as the Holy Mother in Heaven is the red outfit she wears when she flies through the sky. Since women in the human world are subordinate to her and therefore must not wear identical clothes, their trousers are only half red.

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Among the pilgrims, some come representing their families, some as delegations selected from villages or townships, and others as "Incense sharing Groups" that have been organized by Mazu temples in other places.

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"Sharing Incense" or "Sharing the Goddess" means that Mazu temples elsewhere dispatch people to bring their temple's Mazu statue to Meizhou Mazu Temple, for all the statues of Mazu worshipped in other temples come from the ancestral temple at Meizhou. So, on important festival days such as Mazu's birthday and Mazu's ascension day (the ninth day of the ninth lunar month), clergy and laity at other temples organize pilgrim bands to come to Meizhou with their statues to have them "visit their old home".

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After these statues are worshipped in the ancestral temple, the pilgrim bands take them back to their home temples.

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The eve of Mazu's birthday is the most sacred time for followers of the Mazu cult. Puxian Opera performances are held for the three days and nights around her birthday, attracting hundreds of pilgrims to the temple square. After the

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Crowds of people fill the hall, which is thick with burning incense. Firecrackers are set off in front of the incense burner outside the hall, producing a deafening noise. After offering incense at Tianhou Hall, the pilgrims go to pay their respects at Ascension-to-Heaven Rock and then climb to the mountaintop to pay homage to the goddess' statue. A powerful lamp installed on top of the goddess' head shines like a luminous pearl the whole night through. Some of the pilgrims stay on the mountain till daybreak, while others go back to spend the night in Tianhou Hall.

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