Birthday of Matsu

Matsu, Birthday of

23rd day of third lunar month
This holiday celebrates the birthday of the Chinese deity Mat ­ su (or Ma-cho or Mazu), the Goddess of the Sea who is venerated by fishermen for protecting them from storms and disasters at sea. People pay homage to her on her birthday at the Meizhou Mazu Temple on Meishou Island, Fujian Province, China, on Taiwan, and in other Chinese communities.
One Chinese legend says that the goddess was born in about 960 and, because she never cried in the first month of her life, was named Lin Moniang, moniang meaning "quiet girl." She began to read when she was eight, studied Buddhist and Taoist scriptures, became a believer in Buddhism at 10, studied magic arts when she was 12, and at 28 achieved nirvana and became a goddess. She is worshipped because she is believed to have performed many miracles during her life. Courts in successive dynasties issued decrees to honor her with such titles as "Holy Princess" and "Holy Mother."
In Taiwan, the story is that Matsu, a girl from Hokkien Province in China, took up the fishing trade to support her mother after her fisherman father died. One day she died at sea, and because of her filial devotion, she came to be worshipped as a deity. During World War II, when American planes started to bomb Taiwan, many women prayed to Matsu, and it is said that some women saw a girl dressed in red holding out a red cloth to catch the falling bombs.
She is known as A-Ma, or the Mother Goddess, on Macao. The legend there says A-Ma was a beautiful young woman whose presence on a Canton-bound ship saved it from disaster. All the other ships in the fleet, whose rich owners had refused to give her passage, were destroyed in a storm.
Whatever the story, people whose lives depend on the sea visit the goddess' temples on her birthday.
On Taiwan, the most famous celebration site is the Chaotien Temple in Peikang. Built in 1694, it is Taiwan's oldest, biggest, and richest Matsu temple. A carnival-like atmosphere prevails during the Matsu Festival, with watermelon stalls, cotton candy stalls, and sling-shot ranges set up along roadsides. There are parades of the goddess and other gods through village streets, where altars bearing sacrifices of food and incense have been set up. Hundreds of thousands of people pour out of buses and arrive on foot at Peikang. Many of them make pilgrimages from the town of Tachia about 60 miles north, spending a week visiting about 16 Matsu temples along the route. Peikang becomes so crowded it's hard to move, and the firecrackers are deafening. It has been estimated that 75 percent of all firecrackers manufactured on Taiwan are exploded in Peikang during the Matsu Festival; afterwards the remnants of the firecrackers lie two inches deep on the streets.
See also Tin Hau Festival
CONTACTS:
Taiwan Government Information Office
4201 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20016
202-895-1850; fax: 202-362-6144
www.gio.gov.tw
SOURCES:
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 255